The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 24, 2013

Loan program targets American Indian entrepreneurs


The Mankato Free Press

---- — BEMIDJI, Minn. (AP) — A Red Lake tribal member has opened a new restaurant in Bemidji with the help of a little-known state loan program targeting American Indian entrepreneurs.

Given the high rates of high school dropouts and unemployment on the reservation, Marv Hanson hopes to be a role model for American Indians who want to start their own businesses.

Hanson started The Marvelous Fish House and Market in Bemidji with a $177,000 loan from the Minnesota Indian Business Loan Program, which provides up to 75 percent of business startup costs. It's believed to be the first American Indian-owned restaurant in the northern city, Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday (http://bit.ly/Z4SaWk ).

The Indian Business Loan program has been used just 16 times in the past decade. American Indian Chamber of Commerce chairman Jon Otto, a White Earth tribal member, said that might be because few people know about it.

Indian-owned businesses aren't common in Minnesota. A survey conducted in the early 2000s by the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce found around 2,500 of them, and chamber officials say the recession took a toll on such businesses, guessing the number might now be half that.

Hanson's new restaurant is decorated with American Indian art and historic black-and-white photos of tribal members from the three reservations surrounding Bemidji. The menu features Red Lake walleye and Indian-harvested wild rice. Hanson takes pride in having mostly tribal employees.

"It's fun to be a tribal member that is going to make a difference, as far as job creation outside the reservation," Hanson said. "It's kind of something that really doesn't happen very often."

Besides the money from the Indian Business Loan program, Hanson also used a $35,000 loan from the Northwest Minnesota Foundation and put up $100,000 of his own.

There are few signs of entrepreneurship on the Red Lake reservation, where about half of adults are unemployed. Most people buy what they need in Bemidji, 35 miles to the south.

The tribe launched a program last year to encourage would-be entrepreneurs, said Sharon James, the reservation's small business development manager. She is working with about a dozen people interested in starting businesses on the reservation. Most tribal members don't have the basic knowledge or the financial resources to get started, she said.

"They don't have the background that typical environment provides ... It's new to them as far as creating their business plan, knowing how to approach financing sources, and then being able to meet the criteria to get financing," she said.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org