By Keith Purtell
Phoenix Staff Writer
Charles Deason said he’s excited to hear that the number of Native American-owned businesses in Oklahoma has grown by 24 percent.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released the information covering a five-year period from 2002 to 2007, their latest statistics. Nationally, the growth was 18 percent.
Deason, a Keetoowah Cherokee who co-owns Redmen Office Supply in Tahlequah with partner Chuck Bread, said he’s also glad more people are hearing about the success of Native American-owned businesses. He believes businesses’ success leads to feelings of confidence and pride among all Native Americans, even if they’re not business owners.
“I think it’s exciting for Native Americans to be getting any kind of notoriety,” Deason said. “I think there have been many businesses owned by Native Americans in the past, but no one took the time to go out and compile data on Native American-owned businesses.”
The Census Bureau report showed that there were 21,194 businesses in Oklahoma in the category of American Indian- and Alaskan Native-owned firms. Their overall receipts were $2,517,512 in 2002 and $4,517,196 in 2007; an increase of 79.4 percent. The amounts do not include tribally-owned businesses.
Deason said he believes the upswing in the number of Native American-owned businesses is due in part to education.
“For many years, Native Americans have not pursued business opportunities, but I think education and the push of getting more and more kids into college and graduated gives Native American kids a little better chance in the business world,” he said.
Deason attributed the success of the business he and Bread founded to patience.
“We opened in September of ‘07,” he said. “We did it all on our own. Just us and the good Lord, and lots of smiles and handshakes. We started out with one account. We built it to two, and it’s just grown, and I would say we’ve got a couple of hundred accounts across the state, and across the United States. It has been a growing process over the past three years. We not only sell here in Oklahoma. We’ve had accounts in California, Colorado, Arkansas, Texas, Kansas.”
Deason said he and Bread found resources like the National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Gaming Association, the National Indian Education Association, and the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma. They provided information and networking opportunities.
Deason also recommended the Cherokee Nation seminars and workshops which he and Bread have attended.
Jon Overacker, director of the Cherokee Nation’s Tribal Employment Rights Office, said, “I think it’s fantastic for our people,” Overacker said. “Not just for the Cherokee-owned businesses, but for all Indian-owned businesses throughout Oklahoma.”
Overacker said one of the main things TERO does is help businesses qualify to be named as Certified Indian-Owned Businesses. CIOBs get preference in doing business with the Cherokee Nation, referrals to upcoming jobs, and other networking and subcontracting benefits.
Overacker said the there has been considerable local growth since 2007 that is not in the Census Bureau report.
“When I started here in 2007, we had approximately 250 businesses,” he said. “Now, in 2011, we are up to over 650 certified businesses. In the last two years, the Certified Indian-Owned Businesses that we have certified have grossed more than $100 million each year. That’s just their business with the Cherokee Nation. It does not include any outside business that they do.”
Overacker said some of their CIOBs partnered with outside companies to build the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tulsa. Based on the success of that venture, that CIOB earned a strong enough reputation to get a contract to build a new hotel.
“There is just success story after success story,” he said. “I constantly tell my staff we’re not just finding people work. We’re changing people’s lives. We’re helping people find careers.”
Adam Proctor, president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma, said he’s pleased to see the upward trend for Native Americans in business.
“I think that it’s great, and I think that since 2007 there has been more growth in those companies,” Proctor said. “We’re finally starting to see what we’ve been talking about among the chambers in Indian country. The entire goal is to grow.”
Proctor said tribes are realizing that business is an important part of their vitality.
“We’re starting to see the tribes understand the value of commerce and growing the value of the entities in their area,” he said. “You’re starting to see businesses that weren’t there before, and you’re going to see more than that. It’s like a sleeping giant starting to wake up. They are starting to see the value of what they can do and the opportunities that are out there.”
Success is building on success among Native American businesses, Proctor said.
“This last 10 years has just been the starting point,” he said. “I expect to see that in the next 10 years those numbers are going to double.”
Proctor said one of the main driving forces among Native American business people is the ambition that entrepreneurs have when entering their business. And, the end results are impressive.
“The majority of the top Native American-owned businesses located here in Oklahoma are earning $200 to $400 million per year,” he said.
Reach Keith Purtell at (918) 684-2925 or kpurtell @muskogeephoenix.com.
Native American business programs
• The Cherokee Nation offers training and workshops including classes for entrepreneurs, business plan workshops, how to do business with the Cherokee Nation, marketing and public relations, Historically Underutilized Business Zones certification workshops (with the Small Business Administration), government contracting, QuickBooks (financial planning), Web design, and government contracting. Information: (918) 453-5000.
• Tribal Employment Rights Office (Cherokee Nation) — (918) 453-5334.
• American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma — (800) 652-4226.