Published January 3, 2017
MESA, ARIZONA – The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (National Center) named its new President and CEO to lead the longest-running Native American economic development organization. Chris James (Cherokee), who has shared the National Center’s mission to put Indian Country to work over his nearly two decade career, will assume the role immediately. He replaces Gary “Litefoot” Davis, who left the National Center last September and now heads the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA).
Mr. James brings a professional record that spans small business operations, tribal economic development, and senior positions in the federal government.
Most recently, Mr. James served as Associate Administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), where he was a Senior Executive Service (SES) appointee of President Barack Obama overseeing both the Office of Field Operations, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and the Office of Native American Affairs. His extensive portfolio included Native American outreach, program management, and tribal consultation. Prior to his more than six years at the SBA, Mr. James served as a program manager at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, specifically within the Community Development Financial institutions (CDFI) Fund.
“Chris James has the perfect combination of experience, knowledge, and personality to take the reins of an organization whose mission is to create economic opportunity for Indian Country,” said National Center Board Chairman Derrick Watchman. “Mr. James has deep roots in Native American business and economic development, and he has risen to become one of the most effective and tireless advocates for our communities while working in the highest levels of the federal government. He will now bring his skills to bear on behalf of the National Center as we approach our 50th Anniversary, with a focus on growing the economic power of tribal communities. We look forward to formally introducing Chris at the Reservation Economic Summit (RES) Las Vegas in March.”
While at the U.S. Small Business Administration, Mr. James’s responsibilities included representing the SBA at White House events and in state, local, and congressional affairs, as well as serving as a liaison to domestic and international corporate partners and stakeholders. He also established and oversaw SBA’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. As the head of the Office of Field Operations, he managed a workforce of over 800 people with an annual operating budget of over $200 million, and worked on programs and services that affected all 50 states and every U.S. territory.
“It is an honor to be trusted to lead the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development and build on its tremendous 50-year track record of creating business opportunity for Indian Country,” James said. “I have worked side by side with the National Center for many years and have seen firsthand its powerful and direct impact on tribal businesses and countless lives. I am energized to join a group that’s helping to change the economic development conversation in Indian Country. I look forward to seeing familiar faces and new colleagues at RES Las Vegas.”
Prior to his work in government, Mr. James was the Associate Director for the Cherokee, North Carolina-based Sequoyah Fund. While there, Mr. James was responsible for the daily operations of the fund, which is a Native American CDFI and an enterprise of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
He has a B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and a Master of Entrepreneurship from Western North Carolina University. Mr. James is originally from Cherokee, North Carolina – home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians – and is of Cherokee descent.
Mr. James will be leading the National Center at its next signature event – the National Reservation Economic Summit, which is taking place at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas from March 13-16. For more information about how you can sign up for the largest economic development gathering in Indian Country, please click here.