Without Native entrepreneurs to source opportunity, a sustainable Native economy is nothing more than a concept or idea. Native-owned private businesses help to create functioning economies and essential jobs in Indian Country. The Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs list serves to uplift Native business founders and leaders who are demonstrating innovation, professionalism and self-determination. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in the Manufacturing & Constructing sector is Cathryn Palmer, founder of TCB Construction, LLC.
Making the career change from nail technician to decorative concrete artisan may seem like a radical shift, but Cat Palmer of TCB Construction assures us it wasn’t. Sometimes the entrepreneurial vision is about seeing the similarities others don’t.
“The nail industry and the decorative concrete industry — it’s the same chemical makeup, it’s just a larger canvas,” she says. “Polymer, catalyst… I just got it. And I loved it.”
Palmer threw herself into decorative concrete, launching her own company in 2003. Her guiding principle is communication. Her product is expensive, and it can take a prospective client a year to pull the trigger; Palmer romances them with honesty and information. “Build that relationship,” she says. “If they choose me, great, but if they don’t, I still like to give them a lot of knowledge. And that way, when they do pick me, they feel really good about handing over the money. Sometimes I worry that I text my clients too much, but in the end, they love it.”
Palmer is descended from Kiowa celebrity — her grandpas (technically grand-uncles) were Gus, Dixon and George Palmer, of the Black Leggings warrior society. The inspiration from her famous ancestors, who danced for three U.S. Presidents, is ever-present. “It drives me,” she says, “especially in construction, where I want to be that Native-owned, woman-owned business in a field that is dominated by caucasian men. To have the respect from colleagues because I’ve been doing it for so long. I didn’t let anything stop me — I feel my ancestors’ guidance, like these doors are opening up for me because of their hardship.”
Palmer is in the process of opening a second office, in Florida. She has investigated the move and feels confident that the market is there. She also feels TCB Construction now has the standing and capabilities to seek out the Tribal contracts — casinos, gas stations, housing — she hasn’t yet pursued. She looks forward to calling on fellow Native contractors and working more closely with Bank2, owned by the Chickasaws. “Any time I can do business with other Native American companies,” she says, “that’s my first priority.”