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The Reservation Economic Summit's Powerful and Growing 30-Year Influence

When Gary Davis describes the vast opportunities and monumental impact of the annual Reservation Economic Summit (RES), he consistently calls it "powerful."

"Our work — and it's a ton of work — is to make sure that we're providing that cutting-edge knowledge, conversation and training at our events. I think, quite honestly, that the value of our networking is tremendous," Davis, National Center President and CEO, told Indian Country Today Media Network. "The business that comes out of people sitting down over coffee or at a tradeshow booth or after a session, the relationships that the National Center creates through its Reservation Economic Summit is powerful. It's where business happens."

From its informal start in 1986 to its mega-presence in Las Vegas today, the National Reservation Economic Summit (RES), hosted by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (National Center), is empowering Native entrepreneurs and tribal enterprises through unrivaled access to top CEOs, federal agency representatives, members of congress, state and local elected officials, and respected tribal leaders — from across the country and globe.

RES conference sessions will address some of the biggest current economic development topics in Indian country; to name a few: energy, e-commerce, tribal cannabis, start-ups, corporate supplier diversity, natural resources and federal contracting.

More than 4,000 attendees are registered for RES 2016 and the sold-out tradeshow, March 21-24 at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The summit's magnitude is evident in its list of corporate sponsors alone. Among the dozens seeking branding and partnership opportunties within the profitable Native business community throughout the U.S. and global markets are Coca-Cola, AT&T, IBM, MGM Resorts International, the U.S. Department of Energy and KeyBank. The presenting sponsor is Diné Development Corporation and its subsidiaries: NOVA Corporation, DDC Construction Services and DDC IT Services.

"In 30 years, National RES has grown into a must-attend event for anyone who is doing, or wants to do, business in Indian country," Davis has said.

"It's going to take all of us to move Indian country forward. It's going to take all of us to get us to where we need to be," Davis told ICTMN. "…It's been an honor to be a part of it."

Attendees will benefit from high-caliber networking, teaming opportunities, business development sessions, RES Business Tradeshow and Expo, American Indian Artisan Market, RES Procurement, RES Business Matchmaking, Tribal Business Leaders Forum and more.

"Our Tradeshow is a really powerful component. And we've got over 50 sessions across an array of sectors and interests," Davis said.

"The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will be on hand to give legislative updates and to engage Indian country business, while taking their feedback to D.C.," Davis continued. "The [U.S.] Department of Energy has a tremendous presence. I think it's just a powerful array of content and an ever-growing list of new sectors that we're bringing attention to — one of those being marijuana and tribes' ongoing exploration into that sector."

Program managers and technical experts from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories can be found at RES tradeshow booth 137.

Grand Opening Welcome Reception

Each year the opening reception inspires attendees and creates synergy. For Davis, culture and business go hand in hand. Davis said he always taken a "360 approach" to everything the National Center leads. "Experience and meaningfulness are a huge piece of that," he said.

"In 2013 for first time I realized we could do more in terms of infusing our culture into our presentation, reminding folks that business is something that our ancestors and relatives have done throughout North America, Central America and South America," Davis said. "We latched onto the idea around Cahokia, which is an economic epicenter right outside of present-day Saint Louis, Missouri."

Since 2013, RES opening receptions have been inspired by Cahokia, one of the most advanced civilizations in ancient America. Natives inhabited Cahokia from about A.D. 700 to 1400. The Cahokia Mounds were more densely populated than London in AD 1250. "We really did some research into how that community was set up and understood that people got up and went to work every single day," Davis said. "And it created self-sufficiency and sustainability. All of the things that we're looking to foster in Indian country today — our ancestors did that. So that really served as a catalyst [for the Opening Ceremony theme]. I believe our National Reservation Economic Summit is a modern day version of Cahokia."

Business Bootcamp

For those unable to attend the full summit, the Business Bootcamp condenses the information for current and aspiring small business owners.

While the bootcamp, which debuted in 2015, is targeted primarily at startups and entrepreneurs early in their careers, the National Center discovered it attracted a wide array of professionals. "We had people that were the CEOs and staff of multi-million dollar companies in there benefitting from this content," Davis said.

Buy Native Procurement & Matchmaking Expo

American Indian and Native business owners can present their company's goods and/or services to buyers from federal, state and local governments, as well as Fortune 500 corporations. "Our Procurement Expo gets more powerful every year — if you see the growing number of corporations and federal agencies that show up looking for suppliers at our national and regional RES events," Davis said. "We bring those people together to help grow business and create more supplier relationships."

Interactive Access To Capital Fair

The Interactive Access To Capital Fair provides Native entrepreneurs with an ideal environment to present and discuss projects with capital investors. The fair is targeted at those seeking new business or acquisition opportunities, or those looking to launch or build new start-ups ventures, or to refinance existing capital.??"We've got just a growing list of banks, lending institutions and Native CDFIs, and they're solely focused on trying to find projects and good businesses to partner with," Davis told ICTMN.

Scholarship Golf Tournament

Attendees can also partake in casual networking on the golf course at the 30th Annual National RES Scholarship Golf Tournament on March 21 at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Club Resort. Net proceeds from the golf event go directly to fund scholarships for Native business students at the National Center's annual RES Regional/INPRO event.

Some Don't-Miss Sessions:

Marketing — Social media and visual bookmarking with Facebook & Pinterest

Small business experts from Facebook and Pinterest will offer tips for connecting with target customers, telling a visual story, and inspiring communities in an authentic way.

Innovation: Content Creation for Cross-Platform Marketing & Branding

Adobe and Huge, Inc. representatives will lead this innovation session on changing the world through digital experiences by empowering businesses of all sizes to develop and deliver high-impact experiences that differentiate brands, build loyalty and drive revenue across every digital platform. Learn to manage, measure and monetize content for impact.

Corporate Innovation & Supplier Diversity at Google

This workshop will cover Google's unique procurement structure, how to become a Google supplier, and how to leverage Google to boost online marketing. Learn about Google's free, online programs for small businesses, including its Small Business Supplier Diversity Initiative and its Accelerate Academy.

Energy Finance: Financing Energy Development

Successful financiers and developers who have worked with Tribes will share their experiences in exploring financing options, accessing capital and securing successful energy project development. Breakout sessions will be held at various times on March 22 and 23.

Keynote Speaker

The last day of RES will bring the Grand Opening Welcome Reception's message of hard work and self-sufficiency full circle. Keynote speaker Chief Clarence Louie, who has lead the Osoyoos Indian Band to become a multi-faceted corporation that owns and manages nine businesses and employs hundreds of people, will share his wisdom.

“Every First Nation comes from a working culture,” Louie said. “Our ancestors worked hard for a living. Today life is as complicated or messed up as you make it. To improve your quality of life, you either go to school or get a job. Words without action, excuses and blame, leads towards more welfare dependency and poverty. It’s hard work and making money that improves one’s standard of living and provides for First Nation social needs.”

Louie’s Keynote is scheduled for March 24 during the Small Business Showcase Luncheon and Grand Finale Giveaway.