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Michigan’s Tribally owned businesses are unique and integral to the state’s business ecosystem. Since 2010, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and its Tribal Business Development unit have provided resources and support to the 12 federally recognized tribes. Tom Durkee, Project Manager at Tribal Business Development, is at the forefront of this collaboration, focusing on state-tribal relationships that foster business development beyond gaming. Durkee sat down for a Q&A to discuss the challenges of Tribally owned businesses and the support available through the MEDC.

Question: Based on your experience, what are some of the challenges faced by Tribally owned businesses and what solutions are available?

Tom Durkee: While the Tribal Business Development unit works primarily with the businesses established by the 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan, our team understands the challenges that any of the tribes face. Just like other business sectors, it can be a struggle to prioritize where to put investments and what types of businesses yield the best results. However, the MEDC and Tribal Business Development unit offer solutions to help businesses develop and follow strategic plans that provide a starting point, outlines and economic development direction. 

Question: What should Tribally owned businesses know about the resources available to them through the MEDC?

Durkee: The MEDC has a $1.3 million grant program for economic development projects or initiatives that the 12 federally recognized tribes of Michigan are eligible for. Grant proposals are considered on a first-come, first-served basis, with submissions open until the funds are exhausted. MEDC also works to connect Tribal economic development projects with other local, state or federal resources as well as other MEDC programs, so that they are able to use all the resources available that could assist them in their efforts. Whether you are starting a business or growing an existing business, Michigan offers support programs tailored to your needs.

Question: Can you share a success story of a Tribally owned business that used MEDC resources and experienced a positive impact?

Durkee: One of the more recent success stories that MEDC was involved with was the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The tribe has redeveloped a former café in downtown Sault Ste. Marie that had been vacant for over 10 years, turning it into the Tamarack Business Center, a multi-tenant shared workspace and business center. The project initially started as a conversion of the café portion of the property, but last year, the Tribe expanded and doubled its investment with additional space in the building. The tribe contributed funds for both phases of development, and local businesses have demonstrated a strong demand for the space.

Question: From these successes, what is the takeaway for other business owners in Michigan’s Tribal communities?

Durkee: Tribal businesses, like any business, should start with robust planning and outlining to serve as a guide right from the start. Also, we always recommend that businesses explore every available resource and leverage your connections and networks. And finally, have a realistic budget that includes where the funds will come from and how they will be used.


Question: Where can business owners find the resources offered by the MEDC and Tribal Business Development unit?

Durkee: We have federal, state and affiliated resources all available on https://www.michiganbusiness.org/about-medc/tribal-partners/.