|Aug 22, 2012 --
Outline Of Need:
Ten years ago, the Small Business Program for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde was dissolved due to financial constraints, leaving few local resources to help tribal members start new businesses. For this rural community in northwestern Polk County, Oregon, the distance to the nearest business development services was a significant barrier to education, leaving many entrepreneurs without access to the training and support they needed to be successful.
How Rural Development Helped:
MERIT is a microbusiness program located at Chemeketa Community College that assists underserved entrepreneurs throughout the Mid-Willamette Valley. With the help of a $50,120 Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) from USDA Rural Development in 2011, Chemeketa was able to partner with the Grand Ronde Tribe to develop the MERIT Indianpreneurship Program, which utilizes culturally appropriate resources developed by the Oregon Native American Business and Entrepreneurial Network (ONABEN). The Indianpreneurship Program helps tribal entrepreneurs assess the feasibility of their business concepts, learn the basics of running a business, and develop a business plan. (Click here to learn how USDA Rural Development has also supported the Indianpreneurship Program with ONABEN.) Provided onsite at the Grand Ronde Tribal Education Center, the program brings training and technical assistance to tribal members. It also provides resources to the surrounding non-native community in Polk and Yamhill Counties, fostering new connections for the Tribe.
“It made it possible for us to bring the wider community together and develop a unity that wasn’t there before,” said MERIT Program Coordinator Mona Edwards. “They all want what they do to have value for others, and Rural Development made that possible.”
The program provides 33 classroom hours over 10 weeks. The instructors were trained by ONABEN to present the material in a culturally appropriate manner. The night classes teach tax law, cash flow principles, and marketing strategies through the unique perspective of doing business in a native community.
Three Chemeketa MERIT Program staff members are now trained as Indianpreneurship instructors and are available to the Tribe. The first Indianpreneurship class graduated in March 2012, with a second class graduating just three months later.
“It helped us believe that we could achieve our goals for our business,” said Luhui Whitebear, one of fourteen graduates from the program. Whitebear is already well on her way to launching a new business, Native American Fighter, selling native-themed martial arts clothing. Their mission “to inspire the warrior spirit” was one of the concepts Whitebear developed in the class.
Another program graduate plans to open a tamale catering business while two others graduates have partnered together to develop a co-op for local tribal artists.
“They already had good ideas and abilities, they just needed an opportunity to develop their business skills in a supportive environment,” said MERIT Instructor Kinji Neskahi.
Beyond providing the Grand Ronde Tribe with instructors and laying the groundwork for new businesses and jobs, the Chemeketa MERIT Program and ONABEN have helped to form a partnership that is dedicated to improving the economic prosperity of the Tribe in the years to come.
Program: Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG)
Investment: $50,120 grant
Additional $19,230 (grantee)
Funding: $ 9,600 (tribal funding)
Partners: Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde
Chemeketa Community College / MERIT, ONABEN
Impact: 3 Chemeketa staff members trained as Indianpreneurship instructors; 14 entrepreneurs trained to develop new businesses.