As our tribal Nations unfold into a global society of Indigenous people, so do our economic opportunities. Technology and changes in government policy on trade and export have created a principal opportunity for Native-owned and tribal businesses to reach out and engage foreign markets. Although U.S. tribes have been slow to participate in these opportunities, common social and economic issues faced by many Indigenous people worldwide may create a foundation for partnerships and business development opportunities to serve the interest of all participating groups.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, “Nearly 96 percent of consumers live outside the USA and two thirds of the world’s purchasing power is in foreign countries.” The United States has recognized the importance of international trade for decades. In 2008 the U.S. implemented the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It lifted trade restrictions among the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and as a result of its success, the U.S. continued to expand trade agreements with other countries. In 2010 President Barack Obama enacted, the National Export Initiative (NEI) which was intended to stimulate the U.S. economy by encouraging businesses to engage foreign markets, the NEI’s goal is to double U.S. exports within 5 years, among other things, it has helped to remove barriers to trade and provided financing and technical assistance for businesses.
Global marketing has become the goal of some progressive Native entrepreneurs. Larry Ethelbah (White Mountain Apache), owner of Ethelbah Enterprises, LLC, a new start-up company that offers forestry services and products, recognizes important opportunities in promoting his products internationally. “Based on my market analysis, I found that the export market is 15-20 percent higher than the domestic market.” He also feels that exporting will give his business the edge it needs to succeed, and for him, the most important benefit is to keep his fellow tribal members employed. Warren Te Brugge of Manzimvula International Business Consulting group is working with Ethelbah Enterprises in marketing their products internationally. Te Brugge is familiar with the interests of indigenous communities worldwide and finds commonalities among the groups. “Arts and crafts are just one aspect of culture; many indigenous groups have specialized skills, and these skills can also be marketed.”
For tribal nations and native business owners who believe that conducting global business transactions will be too complicated and may be hesitant about engaging in international commerce, consider this: If you are selling to customers oversees, or if you have a business website, you are already engaged. Foreign markets create business growth opportunities. Vince DelaRosa (Wisconsin Oneida), tribal councilman and a business consultant, states: “Tribes in general, need to concentrate on creating economic diversification pathways…. For many years some tribes have relied on the gaming pathway as a means to secure resources, but just maybe, international trade could be a viable alternative.” It also makes better business sense, in that serving a global market may prepare you to withstand domestic economic down shifts. In addition, your business becomes more durable when it comes to facing adversity and change.
When considering a global business, Carolita Oliveros, an attorney who specializes in international business, advises “One of the first steps in preparing your business for foreign markets is to assure the protection of your intellectual property, and it begins in the planning process… establish your business in the form of an LLC or a corporation and make sure to file for trade names and patents.” She also suggests businesses develop a business plan that includes some consideration to all aspects of exporting their goods or service across international borders.
There are several other important steps to take when starting or expanding your business in the global marketplace. These include:
1) Take an assessment to determine if you are ready to do business outside the U.S. Online assessments are available through the SBA website.
2) Get training or consult with an expert.
3) Create a business or marketing plan.
4) Conduct your research.
5) Establish your market
6) Find buyers and seek funding. Ssome U.S. programs offer loans or assistance to small businesses seeking to engage foreign markets. Economic trade missions and economic tours can create a firsthand look at countries interested in international trade. These events are usually hosted through state and federal programs. Today, many countries throughout the world are open to engaging in trade and commerce with the U.S. “There is a world of opportunities for Indian tribes!” states Oliveros.
Additional information can be found through the following organizations: U.S. Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce-The International Trade Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.