Chris James has served as the President and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development since January of 2017. He is responsible for guiding the organization in its day-to-day operations and implementing its longterm strategic initiatives and vision. Prior to joining the National Center, Chris was an Associate Administrator at the U.S Small Business Administration (SBA), worked in Native American Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and managed the Sequoyah Fund – an enterprise of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
From 2011 – 2016, Chris served as Associate Administrator at 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.
While at SBA, Chris’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. He was also the officer on record for Tribal Consultation, and worked with the White House and senior cabinet officials to craft best practices for accomplishing economic development in Native American communities.
Among his accomplishments at SBA was the creation of Startup in a Day, which worked with cities and Native American communities to create streamlined platforms to allow entrepreneurs to apply for all relevant business permits in an expedited manner. Over 100 communities took a public pledge agreeing to simplify the business formation requirements for entrepreneurs in their areas. He was also the agency lead on the SupplierPay program, which encouraged private companies to quickly reimburse their suppliers. Nearly fifty Fortune 500 companies took the pledge.
While at the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 2009-2011, Chris acted as liaison between the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, Native American tribal governments, and other federal government agencies and approved over $120 million dollars in funding to deserving applicants. In part thanks to his leadership, the number of certified Native CDFIs increased by 30%, and the Native American CDFI Assistance Program saw an increase in applicants.
During his time working in the federal government, Chris was an active member of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, the White House Rural Council, White House Community Solutions Task Force, and the White House Interagency Group on Insular Affairs.
Prior to coming to Washington, DC, Chris was the Associate Director for the Cherokee, NC-based Sequoyah Fund. While there, he 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. His family has owned small businesses on the Qualla Boundary for more than 50 years. Chris, who is based in the Phoenix metro area, is married and has three school-aged children.