ANALYSTS ARE WATCHING to see if pre-pandemic gains in business ownership and growth among Indigenous entrepreneurs will rebound post-pandemic. One thing that’s clear is minority-owned businesses have been slower to restart. And of all those minority entrepreneurs, Native business owners are expressing the most pessimism about the post-pandemic outlook. According to Rob Capriccioso writing in Tribal Business News, results of a survey released last May show that more Native entrepreneurs are struggling and expect to continue facing economic headwinds for some time to come.
The survey, by Washington, D.C.– based Public Private Strategies LLC, comprised a total sample size of more than 1,300 small business owners, of whom 49 were Native American. Along with the Native entrepreneurs, business owners from the Asian American/Pacific Islander, African American, white, and Hispanic communities were interviewed. When asked if they were optimistic about the future of their business, 53 percent of Natives agreed, a figure significantly lower than Hispanics (87 percent), African Americans (83 percent), Asians (72 percent), or whites (70 percent).
What’s more, Indigenous owners were least optimistic about the general direction of the economy (46 percent), with African American owners being most optimistic (70 percent). Most Native respondents (75 percent) said it would take six months or more to see pre-pandemic revenue levels at their business. Of all the surveyed minorities, those most likely to report that their business had been adversely affected by issues related to race and ethnicity were Blacks (62 percent) and Native Americans (52 percent). Demographics aside, small business owners generally felt that accessing needed resources was or would be a challenge.
Some owners who are feeling cash-strapped may not realize all the support available to them. After all, the American Rescue Plan Act, which allocates $20 billion to tribes, began to be implemented only this spring. Supports such as the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan funding, and programs funded by the federal CARES Act or the Small Business Administration, such as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, have been helpful to many. Still, much remains to be done in terms of informing individual business owners and tribes about the available resources and helping them make the right connections.
Similarly, a survey of more than 800 Indigenous business owners in Canada — conducted by the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, the National Indigenous Economic Development Board, and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business — found that Indigenous owners were less likely than others to get needed help. While nearly threequarters said their business had been hurt by the pandemic, nearly half said they had trouble meeting requirements for available government support and around the same number said they couldn’t get through the next six months without assistance.
Undoubtedly the pandemic is still throwing up barriers for Indigenous entrepreneurs, but owners on both sides of the border can agree that thanks to vaccination and economic support programs, the outlook for their businesses is much brighter this year. The question is, can they access the resources they need to hang on for that better tomorrow?
This roster of 10 Native STEM Enterprises to Watch is not intended to be a definitive list. Instead, it is meant to be representative of the variety of organizations large and small that are making Indian Country an increasingly interesting place to be for STEM professionals. Enterprises on the list were chosen based on broad criteria, such as workforce and business development, philanthropy, support of education, STEM knowledge, and overall organizational values.
Chandler, Ariz.FIELD: Network creation and supportalluvion.net
Cascade Locks, Ore.FIELD: Market and restaurant serving Columbia River fishbrighamfish.com
Honolulu, HawaiiFIELD: Support for STEM educationhonuascholars.org
Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San AntonioFIELD: Full-service architecture firmmethodarchitecture.com
Flagstaff, Ariz.FIELD: Solar and photovoltaic energy for tribesnativerenewables.org
Lapwai, IdahoFIELD: Mitigation of climate change effectsnezperce.org
Peridot, Ariz.FIELD: Health care services providerscahealth.org
Owyee, Nev.FIELD: Cultivate native, culturally significant plantsshopaitribes.org
Tucson, Ariz.FIELD: Engage Native girls in STEMtaking-up-space.org
Honolulu, HawaiiFIELD: Cybersecurity and cloud implementationuluhitech.com
Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin Community, near Maniwaki, QuebecFIELD: Design and printing servicesanishprint.ca
Sudbury, OntarioFIELD: Creative servicesdeplume.ca
Winnipeg, ManitobaFIELD: Natural bath and body productsmotherearthessentials.ca
Edmonton, AlbertaFIELD: Native-inspired apparel, blankets, accessoriesoldtribes.com
Kamloops, British ColumbiaFIELD: Subscription boxes of Indigenous literature and giftsravenreads.org