NIGA holds Economic Development Panel at its Annual Membership Meeting during the 2019 Tradeshow and Convention

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April 4, 2019

During the annual NIGA Tradeshow and Convention Membership Meeting a panel of leading experts discussed Tribal Economic Development into the 21st Century. Chris James, President & CEO of the National Center for American Indian Economic Development Moderated the panel and Joe Nayquonabe, Commissioner of Corporate Affairs for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe; Jamie Fullmer, Chairman & CEO for Blue Stone Strategy Group; Joanne Whiterabbit, Executive Director for the Minnesota Indian Chamber of Commerce and David Greendeer, Executive Director of Business for the Ho Chunk Nation in Wisconsin offered their expertise on the panel.

Chris kicked off the panel by asking each member to share one of their biggest challenges with regard to Economic Development in Indian Country. The panelists shared that convincing their communities that they had to go “beyond gaming” as that market is maturing was a challenge, the lack of hard infrastructure and funding for it, a limited workforce, having businesses operate independent of government, the lack of priorities and data to drive business decision making, change over in Tribal Government and administrations and the fear of taking risks in business.

Next Chris asked the panelists what kinds of Solutions they were looking at in order to advance and encourage other economic opportunities in Indian Country. Joanne shared a joint purchasing project that she is working on. It requires Tribes to identify their spending patterns in order to streamline for a Vendor Management System. The concept is to share a master data base across Tribal Nation and their entities to put out competitive RFP’s and reduce pricing through bulk purchasing. Jamie shared that Blue Stone emphasizes the importance of community involvement and stakeholder input. This allows the next generation to step up and leverages their talent base while allowing for creativity around Sovereignty, Financing, and Traditional business methodology. David shared the importance of data mining, protecting of information and quantifying customer behavior to drive business development. He also talked about the evolution to block chain ledgers and reconfiguration and how we must overcome our fears and stay with the Cloud evolution. Joe discussed the need to stay up with technology and how they have created a consumer sciences division to collect data to drive and power their decisions. He stressed that staff must drive data mining across platforms (mobile/in-home/laptop) and study what the kids doing and what will drive consumerism in the future.

The next question posed was about connectivity and how cyber currency could be used from our rural community platforms as a cutting edge for business development. The panelists discussed opportunities for thoughtful proposals that would advance new layers of growth and investments in Indian Country, would advance economic profiling regionally, would extend Block Chain and Crypto-currency exchanges, lead to non-conventional financing models and lead to ecommerce or drop shipment opportunity zone money.

In bringing the panel to a close, Chris asked each panelist for a final thought or bold statement that they wanted to share with regard to future Economic Development in Indian Country. Joe stated, “As you diversify your business portfolio remove yourself from the Casino model, invest in your people, send them to the best schools, don’t let them just be good, strive to get better and better.” Jamie said, “Buy technical skills and build it up, look at it as an investment/not an expense and then capitalize on it!” Joanne expressed, “Recognize and utilize the power and influence you have, work together as Tribes and Sovereigns.” To sum it all up, David said, “Work smarter and not harder, have faith in what you can’t see, let your people know it is ok to make mistakes, if they fail and learn from it, that is what counts. Indian Country grew fast in past 50-60 years, lets relish the success that we have, have respect between the young and old, keep working on conforming to technology faster & faster and as long as they get the job done let your employees have flexibility.”

NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens, Jr. appointed each of the panelists to an Economic Development Sub Committee that will be Chaired by Chris James.