Tester talks economic development with tribal business leaders

Senator urges Commerce Department to increase access to capital for Native-owned businesses

(U.S. Senate)-Vice-Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Senator Jon Tester today discussed economic development needs with tribal leaders and urged the Commerce Department to increase access to capital for Native-owned businesses.

During a committee hearing, Tester highlighted the critical role the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) has in providing access to capital for businesses across Indian Country. A lack of business investment and economic opportunity has contributed to higher unemployment rates in Indian Country than other areas of the nation.

“We must all work together to reduce unemployment, help create more good-paying jobs, increase access to private capital, and provide Native American businesses with the tools they need to self-govern,” Tester said. “Native Americans should not have to choose between making a good living away from their family and homelands, or living in poverty.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs reported in 2013, only half of all Native Americans ages 16 and older living on or near tribal areas are employed. Across the country, it is estimated that 23 percent of Native American families live below the poverty line, including over 32 percent of Native American families in Montana.

The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) provides competitive grants and technical assistance to minority-owned businesses in high-growth industries. There are six MBDA Business Centers strategically located near major Native American population centers.

Earlier this month, Tester introduced legislation to prevent budget sequestration from reducing the Indian Loan Guaranty Program, which helps tribes and Native American entrepreneurs get loans to start businesses.

This week Tester, along with a bipartisan group of Senators, introduced a bill to help promote tourism in Indian Country.