By Joe Morey News Editor
With the tagline, “Tribes helping tribes achieve business success,” the Tribal Business League’s founder and Executive Director, Curtis DeCora, came before the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) to give an update on the current activities of the organization. The TGB renewed their annual membership at the meeting.
DeCora explains the TBL as a tribally-led, non-profit buying club that levels the groups collective purchasing power enabling them to make purchases at lower prices than are generally available, or to purchase goods that might be difficult to purchase independently.
Currently, the group is made up of six tribes; Lac Courte Oreilles, Bad River, Red Cliff, St. Croix, Hannahville Indian Community and Lac du Flambeau. The Lac Vieux Desert Tribe is being welcomed as their newest member.
“Initially, we focused on being regional and local so as to ensure that we can take advantage of local vendors without diluting our prices with freight or cross docking at other facilities,” DeCora explained.
The TBL officially began in October of 2019 upon the filing of 501(c)6 papework with the IRS, however, “We have been officially meeting since October 2018 to ensure that this was something that the tribal business leaders wanted to pursue, and something that they saw would be of benefit to the tribes,” DeCora noted.
DeCora explained the idea was born when he attended a Chippewa Federation meeting.
“I noticed that we had tribes meeting and coming together on treaty rights, sovereignty, various issues challenging tribes. I thought why don't the tribes work together on the money side of things; commerce, enterprise, and business development? So, I called a meeting between Red Cliff, St. Croix, Lac du Flambeau, LCO, and Bad River, and requested they send anyone that would be able to make decisions for the businesses. That was October of 2018, when we met at the Kinnamon School,” DeCora said.
It wasn’t too long before the organizational structure of the TBL fell into place. DeCora said their structure works great for them. He went on to describe the Board of Directors. There are three board members; Catherine Joy, she is a CPA with 35+ years of experience and has done tremendous amount of tribal economic development work; Adam Songetay, he is the Director of Corporate Operations for St. Croix Casinos, and does a great job in keeping our vendors in check; then, myself, Curtis DeCora, I'm the business development individual that presents to tribal governing boards, tribal economic development corporations, and associations like the Chippewa Federation or Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes.
“Our next tier are the business managers, those who are hired to run the enterprises, they all have a say in how the organization is operated, which initiatives are important to the tribes and enterprises, as well as which vendors we should work with. These are the tribal delegates from each tribe, so every tribe has a say in the overall direction and operation of the Tribal Business League,” noted DeCora.
DeCora went on to describe how the organization works to benefit its member tribes. First, there is the challenge, which he states, “Right now, every tribe that has joined the Tribal Business League orders from 10 different vendors, getting 10 different prices, and paying 10 different freight costs on shipping. For example, take the casino, they order pens, copy paper, cleaning chemicals and agents, hand sanitizer, staples, and any other item we can think of that a business orders. Those same items are used in our health center, tribal administration buildings, housing, K-12 school, radio station and so on. Why are we paying more for the same item when we could simply get that item for 25% - 35% less, and keep our budgets in check?”
Then there’s the solution, which DeCora states, “Instead of having 10 different entities ordering from 10 vendors, we have 10 different entities ordering from one vendor, and consolidating all of our sales volume to bring our vendors costs down, thus, providing us with a lower cost as well. The Tribal Business League puts tribes in the driver seat when it comes to vendor relations, we are determining pricing, terms, conditions, and are able to request exclusive deals, along with exclusive products.”
As far as future goals, DeCora said their newest growth initiative will be their $68 Billion dollar buying club they recently joined.
“This helps us tap into office supplies, cleaning and janitorial supplies, as well as food service, which can help our tribal programs expand their programs as their dollar now goes much further with reduced pricing on goods and services,” DeCora explained. “What may have cost $3.50 per unit at 10,000 units, can now be $2.97 per unit at 10,000 units, and opens up $5,300 on just one item. Every tribe is ordering paper, cleaning supplies, pens, legal pads, etc., and the items remain the same, our volume that goes up that much further offering our member tribes an opportunity to allow our dollars to go much further.”
If you'd like more information on the Tribal Business League, contact Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 715-638-0481.