Tribal companies explore private sector opportunities

Montana State Roundup

Published July 1, 1996  | July 1996 issue

A&S Tribal Industries, a metal fabrication manufacturer in Poplar, once employed 500 people. Due to federal cuts in defense spending, A&S now has a staff of only six.

A&S and other companies on Montana reservations that have relied on government contracts are now exploring production opportunities in the private sector with the help of the Montana Indian Manufacturers Network (MIMN). Located in Billings, MIMN was formed in 1990 to unite manufacturing firms on reservations in Montana and Wyoming in their efforts to secure contracts and develop business acumen.

"We are promoting commercial development and less reliance on government contracts," says MIMN director Leonard Smith. MIMN has developed programs for tribal companies in marketing, finance and management, and acts as a clearinghouse for training and other resources. MIMN uses the concept of "training the trainer," where a network member learns a skill and then trains other member companies. "If a company has a strength in an area, it will share that information," Smith says.

On a case-by-case basis, MIMN develops business models for tribal companies. For example, MIMN developed a business plan model for A&S, including a marketing strategy and an organizational structure. The model is now complete; MIMN will continue to assist in improving efficiency as it is implemented, Smith says.

MIMN also invites potential private sector partners to visit reservations. Large high-technology firms are considering operations on reservations due in part to a large pool of unemployed workers with manufacturing experience. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has also indicated an interest in locating operations on reservations. "The reservations have very competitive business incentives that haven't been marketed effectively in the past," Smith says.

Aside from training and designing business models, MIMN plans to partner with area banks to establish a capital fund. "We received a tremendous response and quick response," Smith says, for the capital fund, which is still in its early stages.

Kathy Cobb