The Edmond Sun

November 5, 2009

Recognizing that Oklahoma is Native America


EDMOND — This November is Native American month. It is the good time to remember alegacy of Oklahoma as “Indian Territory,” but more importantly to acknowledge the contributions native tribes have made to the fabric of our state. The leaders of state government in Oklahoma still struggle to recognize the unequivocal importance of tribal governments and minority small businesses to the success of the economy of Oklahoma.

Gov. Brad Henry can make a difference by overcoming the current disputes and bring the state and tribes together for joint business development. Leadership is needed. He has a chance to be one of the first governors to unify a state with tremendous resources for jobs and economic development.

Our car tags read “Native America,” but it is time to stand up and prove it. Oklahoma government needs to “put its money where its mouth is,” for the benefit of all of us. Tobacco tax revenues are important, but not as important as working together for outside investment and jobs for Oklahomans.

Oklahoma is “Indian country.” We have 38 federally recognized tribes that call Oklahoma home and the second-largest concentration of Native Americans in the United States, behind only California. These statistics translate into a lot more long-term economic development fire-power than gaming or tobacco. Economic development brings jobs and opportunities for all Oklahomans. We need every competitive advantage as a bread basket state to compete for current and future business. The governor can take the initiative and utilize our heritage to develop future business and jobs. Tribes contributed more than $10 billion to the state’s economy in a report five years ago and can do considerably more with cooperation and assistance.

Government agencies, prime contractors and large commercial concerns seek and need minority companies to work with. According to the National Minority Supplier Development Council, more than $87 billion was spent in 2004 nationally with NMSDC certified minority vendors. Prime Department of Defense contractors can receive a 5 percent cash rebate for using Native American minority companies.

Tribal SBA certified 8(a)s are at a premium because of their sole source contracting capabilities alone. Tribes can immediately offer businesses in Indian country tax incentives the state has to argue about and approve first. Businesses locating in Indian country can receive up to a $4,000 tax credit per tribal employee hired. All government contracts have a minimum 20 percent small band minority business “requirement.” Most large corporations and Fortune 1000 companies try to contract 20 percent of their annual vendor dollars to small minority businesses.

Small businesses account for 95 percent of all businesses in Oklahoma and employ 45 percent of the state’s workforce. Native American-owned, tribal-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned and all minority-owned businesses are a valuable resource for the future of this state’s economy. Yet the Oklahoma Department of Commerce Web site barely addresses any of the advantages in doing business with tribal entities, let alone minority companies.

The governor has a chance to step up for tribal unity and the benefit of the state. Minority and tribal entities in strategic alliance with large and small non-minority businesses offer competitive advantages in business. Alliances and recognition of these resources can create new jobs for all Oklahomans. To be competitive we need to use all our assets. It is time to settle old scores and bring state and tribal governments together as a strong combined resource for our future.

PHIL G. BUSEY SR., an Edmond resident, is chairman and CEO of The Busey Group of Companies.