April 07, 2011

Tribes, Idahoans Benefit from SBA Job Programs

Crapo welcomes Coeur d'Alene Tribal Chairman during committee testimony

Washington, DC - New private-public partnerships promoted by Idahoans and Idaho tribal leaders are already paying dividends in the form of more than one hundred jobs in north-central Idaho.  The job-creating efforts promoted under the Small Business Administration's (SBA) 8(a) Development Program, and supported by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, were the focus of a hearing held today by the Indian Affairs Committee on which Crapo serves.  Coeur d'Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan provided testimony during the hearing regarding the benefits of the program.

The SBA 8(a) program was created to allow minority-owned businesses to have a better chance to compete for a share of the federal contracting market, effectively helping them develop into successful businesses and create local jobs.  In the first year with the 8(a) designation, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's tribally-owned company, Echelon LLC, received a contract worth almost $40 million and created jobs in an area with one of the highest unemployment levels in the state.  Echelon currently manufactures flexible fabric containers and operates a fully staffed and equipped metals fabrication facility.  Crapo had the opportunity to tour the plant in Plummer last year and saw firsthand the benefits the program has had on the company.

Chairman Allan testified about the positive impact the program has had on north Idaho, noting that in just over a year, the company expanded into three facilities on the reservation and put over one hundred people to work, tribal and non-tribal members alike.  "The 8(a) program helped our company to breathe a new life and hope into a struggling reservation community," Allan said. Today's hearing was held to examine recent scrutiny the 8(a) program has received due to concerns over program abuse by entities elsewhere in the nation. "The basis for these attacks is the erroneous premise that Native 8(a) is abusing sole source contracting," said Allan.  "Native 8(a) is being unfairly singled out, and our company is suffering as a result." 

Tribally-owned companies sometimes have thousands of shareholders (tribal members) and the profits go to benefit entire communities.  "We need to preserve and expand the Native 8(a) program. It is one of the few government programs providing the results for which it was intended," Allan said. 

A provision in the Defense Authorization Act has severely restricted the 8(a) program, and Crapo has written to Defense Secretary Gates and former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, calling on using maximum flexibility in implementing the provision in order to minimize its unintended impact on affected tribes.  "Not only is there an importance to maintain the 8(a) program, but allegations about the program are themselves having a negative impact and we need to address and resolve the issue quickly," Crapo said.