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Workshops Help Navajo Nation Businesses Survive Contract Process

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As president of iiná bá, Inc, a Native American-owned environmental consulting firm, Duane Aspaas says he is always look for tips, training and education for his staff of nearly 20 to stay competitive.

Marketing and administrative staff from iiná bá, Inc., recently attended a workshop hosted by The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development to learn about the proposal and request-for-proposal process that goes into obtaining high-level contracts in Indian country.

Afterward, Aspaas and his business were selected by the Navajo Gaming and EPA for contracts. "Often times when preparing a proposal, it is easiest to use some stock company marketing materials and qualifications language," he said. "I like to think we’ve been selected by the Navajo Gaming and EPA because the presentation of our proposal was very professional and was organized to highlight our qualifications to meet their specific project requirements."

That's exactly what the people behind NCAIED want to hear. The organization was started to develop American Indian economic self-sufficiency through business ownership. Originally started back in 1969 in Los Angeles as a grassroots movement, it was known as the Urban Indian Development Association. The seven American Indian leaders who started it believed economic empowerment could help improve conditions for Native Americans through partnerships between government, the private sector and Indian country.

The Urban Indian Development Association transitioned to The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, or NCAIED, in the late 1980s. The company also relocated from California to Mesa, Arizona, according to Cyndi Jarvison, senior procurement specialist for The National Center Procurement Technical Assistance Center, or PTAC, that supports economic development through government contracting. PTAC assists American Indian, Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian firms by providing bid opportunities from federal, state, local and tribal governments.

"We offer training related to marketing, securing contracts and performing on contracts, plus any other topics that may be advantageous to the client's contracting success," Jarvison said.

She said the workshops help increase growth opportunities for small businesses by providing participants with new knowledge, know-how, and connections to help them create jobs and strengthen communities.

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The biggest obstacles stopping Native-owned businesses from winning high-level government contracts is a lack of knowledge, capital, bonding and qualified personnel, said Jarvison, who works solely within the Navajo Bureau of Indian Affairs region.

"Most business owners experience difficulty in accessing capital and bonding because they lack the resources," she said. "By encouraging these businesses to participate in small local government bids and subcontracting with and eventually teaming with larger companies, they gain the experience and capacity to compete on larger jobs."

Topics at the training sessions range from federal contracting 101 to how to work with the Navajo Housing Authority, the Navajo Indian Health Services and various other agencies. Speakers from federal, state and local governments and small and large business owners are also a part of the workshops, giving a wide range of educational opportunities for businesspeople.

"These events have the potential to provide buyer/seller matchmaking opportunities, along with networking opportunities, Jarvison said.

She also said PTAC's specialized government-accounting training is the first of its kind brought to the Navajo Nation. They are usually only offered in major metropolitan areas.

It's that sort of knowledge that people like Aspaas appreciate. "The large size of the Navajo Nation and the nature of small-business ownership presents operational challenges, and event like the NCAIED workshop help to provide opportunities for teamwork and collaboration that otherwise would be difficult to organize," he said.

PTAC workshops are offered at the annual Navajo Nation Business Opportunity Day. George Williams, program manager at PTAC, said the next Navajo Nation Business Opportunity Day will take place on April 9 at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona.

The individual sessions are from an hour to an hour and a half.