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With the holidays winding down, Aboriginal leaders should be planning for the upcoming year. More and more Aboriginal communities are viewing business activity as the way to improve the lives of their citizens. But too often, we read about how some communities remain stuck in economic stagnation or  have made horrible business decisions. I have written repeatedly about how Aboriginal people are strategically positioned to become major players in the Canadian economy. But the question remains, how can they make this happen?

In my opinion, there are five areas they should focus on.

Leadership It is not enough to simply say your community is open for business. There must be the political will and leadership to make economic development a priority. That means separating business and politics with the creation of an economic development corporation, and placing the best people in senior roles whether they are a community member or not.

Leverage Take stock of what gives you a competitive advantage over other communities. For instance, do you have a strategic location? Do you have land available for lease? Do you have access to a skilled labour force? Do you have money to invest? Do you have successful businesses operating in your community already? Do you have equipment (trucks, loaders, gravel crushers) that can be put to use?

Partnerships Think about the companies you want to attract, the industries you want to invest in and the type of business you would like to have as a partner. In terms of specific industries, you should consider the impact on local businesses. You should also take into account the impact on employment and the environment. In terms of a business partner, ask yourself whether the company has experience working with Aboriginal communities, is a startup or a well-established business, and if it is throwing “skin into the game.”

Rules of engagement Aboriginal communities should give companies an idea of the rules for doing business on their land. This could be in the form of a business code or policy located on the community’s website.

Be the No. 1 salesperson The First Nations Chief and Council, and Metis and Inuit Presidents have the responsibility to be the biggest salesperson for their community and should be able to outline why businesses should invest there. Too often, we hear Aboriginal political leaders voice what is wrong with their communities. We need to hear more leaders say why companies should set up shop in their community rather than the town down the road.

While this list is not exhaustive, it should provide a foundation of a credible business plan.

Happy 2012 to all of you. I wish you a healthy and wealthy business year.

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