Survey: Native and American Indian firms increase

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ANCHORAGE — Businesses owned by Alaska Natives and American Indians have shown some growth, but the increase has failed to equal more jobs, according to the latest findings in a survey conducted every five years by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Survey results released Tuesday show the number of Indian- and Alaska Native-owned businesses increased nearly 18 percent from 2002 to 2007, while the number of paid workers they employed dropped by nearly 4 percent during that time.

However, officials noted the study was completed before the Great Recession and did not include businesses that are tribally owned, such as casinos.

According to the survey, almost 237,000 businesses brought in a total of more than $34 billion in receipts in 2007, a 28 percent increase from 2002. The number of businesses represents an increase of almost 18 percent.

Most of the businesses were owner-operated and had no employees. The remaining 23,704 businesses had about 184,400 paid employees, a 3.6 percent drop.

The Census Bureau survey does not include tribally owned businesses, or businesses and subsidiaries owned by Alaska Native regional or village corporations. Officials acknowledged those businesses contribute significantly to tribal economies, saying it’s important to look to other information sources for a fuller picture.

“They’re always left out, and it’s because they’re considered government-owned, and government-owned businesses are out of scope of the survey of business owners,” Census Bureau Deputy Director Thomas Mesenbourg Jr. said in a teleconference.

The survey also does not reflect the later recession, which hit Indian Country especially hard, according to another teleconference speaker, according to Christina Daulton with the National Congress of American Indians. She said the American Indian unemployment rate increased nationally nearly 8 percentage points to more than 15 percent from the first half of 2007 to the first half of 2010. That jump was 1.6 times the size of the increase for whites, she said.

“For many Native communities, economic crisis is not an occasional disaster,” Daulton said. “It is a daily reality.”

Under the survey’s counting criteria, businesses were included if American Indian and Alaska Native owners held a stake of 51 percent or larger.

Of the businesses counted in the survey, only 2 percent generated receipts of $1 million or more, compared with 5 percent among all firms in the nation. Still, the 2 percent figure represents a growth of almost 27 percent, from about 3,630 businesses in 2002 to about 4,600 in 2007.

The number of businesses with 100 employees or more fell by 9 percent, from 178 firms to 162.

On average, businesses counted in the survey generated slightly more than $145,100 in receipts, far below the non-minority average of $490,000.

On the upside, average gross receipts of firms owned by American Indians and Alaska Natives that generated at least $1 million in sales increased by 5 percent. The average went from $4.7 million per business in 2002 to $5 million in 2007.

The survey’s release coincided with a tribal economic summit in Las Vegas organized by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. Speakers at the event Tuesday urged tribes to go beyond gambling and tobacco to generate revenue for their economies.

“Our nation has three casinos — we do very well with it. We also sell an awful lot of cigarettes,” said Robert Porter, president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, based in New York state. “It’s just too narrow for the future.”

Porter also said tribes should work with the federal government to try to get more freedom over their land and money.



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