Richard Andrews, 2009, Economics

“During the summer of 2008, I worked with the Tuba City Regional Business Development Office (TCRBDO) on the Navajo Nation. The office, which is part of the Navajo Nation Department of Economic Development, helps facilitate local businesses on the reservation. Specifically, the office helps individuals write business plans, apply for Navajo Nation small business loans, and navigate through the business site leasing process. Furthermore, the office assists in communities in planning economic development projects.”

“I spent much of my time soliciting contracts for land surveys, environmental assessments, and archaeological assessments—all of which are required before a business site lease is approved. Also, I worked with community leaders in business site development, assisted clients working on getting loans and business site leases, and compiled a summary document of the economic development plans for each community under our jurisdiction.”

“Through working with the TCRBDO, I learned a lot about the challenges to economic development on reservation. The lack of private property is probably the most significant hurdle, as individuals must navigate a complicated bureaucracy in order to start a business. This process can sometimes take up to 5 years. A lack of business-related education also impedes local Navajo from starting effective businesses, along with a lack of credit. The TCRBDO periodically holds business-related training sessions in order to counteract this problem. However, clearly more is needed. Also, a lack of infrastructure makes starting business a costly endeavor, as often the entrepreneur has to invest in the costs of infrastructure to a potential business site. Finally, poor leadership and a complicated bureaucracy work to slow economic development projects on the reservation.”

“In terms of energy development, my office was working with one company in particular to bring a wind farm to the reservation. It was the most promising renewable energy project on the reservations with plans for it to be fully operational by 2012. However, after spending my first two weeks of the summer working with the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission, it became clear to us that solar-based renewable energy projects hold the most promise on the reservation (see Tom Yersak’s Internship Summary for more details).”

One of the coolest developments I was a part of was the transfer of control of the business site leasing process from the Navajo government to a local community—the Shonto Chapter. This transfer will greatly decrease the time needed to start a local business, freeing the people from a government apparatus that hinders growth. My office was closely assisting Shonto Chapter, in order to make the transition as smooth as possible. Apparently, this is the first time a local government has been in control of the leasing process among any native peoples in the United States, and I had the privilege of attending the ceremony where the Navajo Nation officially transferred power to Shonto.”

“Overall, I had an eye-opening, provocative summer. I learned a lot about the Navajo people and the challenges they face, while also enjoying the beauties of the American Southwest. The work may not have been the most stimulating, but I do believe that I did a small part to aid economic development on the reservation.”