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Albany commits 6% to disabled vets’ businesses

At last, words have become action: New York will be doing more business with disabled veterans.

With the May 12 signing of the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Act, veterans who’ve endured injury and disability while serving our country will finally see their businesses enjoy an advantage in competing for $400 million in state contracts.

The law mandates that 6 percent of state contracts be awarded to certified SDVO businesses. That’s double the percentage that the U.S. Department of Defense and most other states already earmark.

The legislation aims to reduce high unemployment among veterans, said Sen. Greg Ball, chairman of the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee and a frequent advocate for veterans.

Joblessness is alarming among young veterans, particularly those of the Gulf War era II, defined as beginning in September 2001. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, 24.3 percent of male Gulf War-era II veterans age 18 to 24 were unemployed in August 2013. Among non-veterans the same age, the figure was 15.8 percent.

Unofficial unemployment rates, of course, are higher.

Disability rates among these younger vets are also disturbing. While 15 percent of all veterans reported having a service-connected disability, that figure soars to 29 percent for Gulf War-era II veterans. Disabilities include traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries.

For our returning soldiers who have sacrificed so much, being young and disabled compounds the challenge. Many deferred their education and careers to serve and now find their employability limited—despite the impressive and relevant skills they gained in the military. Those suffering physical and mental disabilities are closed out of many job categories altogether.

That is why encouraging entrepreneurship—as the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Act does—is so important.

As a disabled veteran and a business owner, I have taken particular interest in this cause. I was honored in February to testify before Ball’s committee regarding several bills to aid my younger colleagues. I described the obstacles that my company, T&T Materials Inc., has encountered in seeking business with New York.

Thanks to the Defense Department’s recognition of our capabilities and adherence to rigorous standards, our company has thrived. We’re a supplier participant for 13 procurement contracts supporting military manufacturing facilities. But like other similarly qualified veteran companies, we have found New York closed for business.

For some of my colleagues, that’s about to change.

This is not a handout. I noted in my testimony that set-asides do not guarantee any company contracts; they simply ensure that SDVO businesses receive an opportunity to bid. Now that state agencies must award 6 percent to SDVOs, they’ll be forced to expand the circle of suppliers with whom they work.

Mandates aside, however, working with SDVO companies is simply good business, because veterans make superb partners, suppliers, job creators and employees.

“These men and women have the exact skill sets we need in the workplace and the integrity we desperately need in the boardroom,” Ball said in announcing the bill’s passage. “The attributes that make these people so vital to defending our freedoms are the same hard-earned intangibles that make them exceptional at running their businesses and creating jobs.”

I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I’m urging Albany to act on two additional pieces of legislation on which I testified:

  •  Senate Bill 3038-A would establish competitive indexing for the fair evaluation of bids. It’s common in the industry for some giants to submit an artificially low bid and temporarily accept zero profitability to win the lead contract and become the favored supplier for similar products. But this practice effectively shuts out smaller businesses that cannot afford to forgo profit, even briefly.
  •  And Senate Bill 3885 is a no-brainer. It would provide for tax credits to companies that hire veterans, particularly unemployed veterans.

The economic challenges facing veterans are formidable and well-documented. It’s time to stop debating the merits of giving them a hand up—and simply do it.

James M. Terhune is CEO of T&T Materials Inc., a service-disabled veteran-owned small business in Rochester that provides value-based metals procurement.

5/23/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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