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Long-term approach to growing jobs

It was all about the teamwork: State lawmakers were impressed when Mahnomen County, the City of Mahnomen and the White Earth Reservation joined together to answer Gov. Mark Dayton's call to address economic disparity in Minnesota.

The result: Initial funding of $500,000 and ongoing annual funding of $125,000.

The program: Business incubator support for budding entrepreneurs called the White Earth Integrated Businesses Development System.

"I guarantee because we went there as a group, that's why we got it through," said Alan Roy, strategic affairs specialist for White Earth.

He is also a U.S. Army captain who lives and breathes teamwork.

"I just really want to emphasize this was approved collaboratively with the county, the city and the tribe," he said. "We're going to fix it together, it's very important for us to do it together. This whole team concept is really where it's at."

The White Earth Integrated Businesses Development System is the only out-state disparity program that was funded by the state, and is unique in that it includes tribal and non-tribal entities and is a startup program —most, if not all, of the other 16 program funded were already existing programs, he said.

A committee including stakeholders from the county, city, tribe and general community is being set up and will make key decisions on the program.

Depending on what the committee decides, it may have a brick and mortar location, likely in the city of Mahnomen. Support services would likely be part of the package to help nurture new businesses.

A working capital loan fund supported by all three entities may also be part of the equation, Roy said.

"It's really niche," he said. "It's aimed at those folks trying to start a business. This program will help them do that, to get the training and financing they need ... this program tries to give entrepreneurs the tools to succeed — it's about helping you invest in yourself."

The program takes a long-term approach to growing jobs through small, locally-grown businesses.

"We're trying to liberalize the economy in the region — we're looking decades down the road with this," he said.

The program will work closely with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the MMCDC-sponsored White Earth Initiative and any other agency or nonprofit that is interested, he said.

"We'll do our jobs together — success will be on the individual entrepreneur," Roy said.

The program was just one area where White Earth found bipartisan success with the Legislature this year.

In all, White Earth could receive more than $6 million for tribal programs.

For example, the tax bill, if it eventually passes, includes an additional $1 million in government aid appropriation for White Earth and also $1 million for Mahnomen County, Roy said.

White Earth also accepted $2.18 million to purchase 2,000 acres of Potlatch Corporation property located on the reservation.

Through delicate negotiations with House and Senate leadership, the Tribal Council proposed and determined that accepting the land in fee status was acceptable. This decision subsequently led to Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council funding approval in a bipartisan conference committee.

The state has also agreed to pick up about $1.4 million in human services funding that the tribe was spending annually. White Earth administers human services programs much like counties do, Roy said.

That will save the tribe some $14 million over 10 years and more than $40 million over 30 years, he said.

The tribe also negotiated administrative adjustments for several big programs, such as child welfare, that could bring in an additional $1 million.

And those with tribal IDs no longer have to get a harvesting permit from the state DNR to gather wild rice, he said.

"The Tribal Council put together a team that achieved all our state legislation items," said Steven "Punky" Clark, White Earth vice-chairman. "We are very proud of this accomplishment."