Cantwell, Tester, Udall Introduce Bill to Launch Businesses and Create Jobs in Indian Country

Tribal Incubator Bill will Foster Entrepreneurship and Close the Employment Gap in Native American Communities

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced legislation to help launch businesses and create more jobs in Indian Country.

Their bill, the Native American Business Incubators Program Act, will establish and fund business incubators in Indian Country to help start-up and cultivate Native American-owned small businesses. 

“Many of the Northwest Tribes are in isolated regions of our state,” said Cantwell. “This incubator program helps them build skills and expertise that can help create jobs in our rural communities. This bill helps provide tools and training to help Native American-owned businesses thrive and strengthen the communities around them.”

“Starting a business is a challenge anywhere, but folks in Indian Country face even more obstacles when they try and get a business off of the ground,” Tester said.  “This bill will provide critical tools to Native American entrepreneurs so they can strengthen tribal economies and hire folks in their communities.”

"Small businesses create jobs and opportunity and empower people to shape their own future, and that's why I'm doing all I can to support New Mexico's entrepreneurs, especially in Indian Country," Udall said. "This bill will help Native American business owners navigate obstacles, cut through red tape, and get access to start-up funding. These important tools will help promising entrepreneurs get off on the right foot so they can launch their businesses — and stay in business."

Businesses often struggle in Native American communities because entrepreneurs must deal with regulatory uncertainty, remoteness, and difficulty accessing capital.

Cantwell, Tester, and Udall’s bill will create an annual $5 million competitive grant initiative within the Interior Department to establish or maintain business incubators that serve Native American communities.

“We endorse and welcome the introduction of this important legislation that responds favorably to many requests over the years for Congress to create a business development program tailored specifically to Indian Country’s unique sovereign and business characteristics and capabilities, and focused on incubation and access to capital challenges,” said Gary Davis, President and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.

Tribal business incubators will create a one-stop-shop for Native American entrepreneurs so they can get assistance developing a business plan navigating federal, tribal, and state regulations; and attracting outside investment.  The incubators will also provide entrepreneurs a connected workspace and professional networking opportunities.

To be considered for a grant, the applicant must serve one or more tribal communities, submit a three-year plan, provide a physical workspace, offer business skills training and education, and meet other specific requirements.  Tribes, Tribal Colleges or Universities, and non-profit organizations are eligible to operate a business incubator.  The Native American Business Incubators Program Act will also provide oversight to business incubators and ensure they are delivering on their commitment to Native American entrepreneurs.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, 39 percent of Native Americans living on reservations are in poverty and the unemployment rate is 19 percent—more than three times the national average.  Additionally, almost half of working age Native Americans living on reservations in certain states said there is a lack of jobs in their community.