Veterans Chamber of Commerce to launch Nov. 8

In the three years since a law requiring the government to contract with disabled veteran-owned businesses went into effect, not a single contract has been signed.

That’s bothersome to Jeff Cantor.

And it’s why Cantor decided to form the Veterans Chamber of Commerce, which Cantor said is scheduled to launch Nov. 8.

The idea is to help the government agencies have a contact point with disabled-veteran companies. And, on the other side, to ensure more businesses register with the state or sign up with the new chamber, Cantor said.

To get the word out, the newly formed chamber has several trustees and is partnering with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.

“We want to be able to do networking events and procurement expos, and reach out when there are opportunities,” Cantor said.

Cantor said he stumbled upon some alarming numbers when he did research.

  • There are only 35 veteran-owned businesses registered in the state;
  • There are actually 350 veteran-owned businesses in the state, belonging to both abled and disabled veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Cantor said the law, which passed in 2015, set aside 3 percent of the state’s procurement budget for disabled veteran-owned businesses.

Once he discovered that wasn’t happening, the idea of a hub to better facilitate communication between the businesses and the government was born.

Cantor said other states already have a similar chamber, with the best being in Wisconsin, he said.

Surrounding states also do a better job than New Jersey, he said.

Cantor said New York state has set aside 6 percent of its procurement budget for 540 registered veteran-owned businesses, which has resulted in about $20 million spent per quarter.

New Jersey’s failure to match that is due to a combination of factors, Cantor said.

First, procurement officials are either unaware of the law, or the agency is unaware, and therefore does not pass on the directive to its procurement officer, he said.

Secondly, New Jersey charges minorities, women-owned businesses and veteran-owned businesses $100 to register as such in the state.

“Most states around New Jersey do it for free,” Cantor said.

Another obstacle faced by the businesses, even if they are based in New Jersey, is that if more than a certain percentage of their revenue comes from out of the state, they are no longer considered an in-state entity, Cantor said.

“They are punishing those established in New Jersey,” he said.

Cantor set about trying to garner more interest in the issue, after serving on Gov. Phil Murphy’s transition team for veterans’ issues, by talking with the state Department of Treasury and other agencies.

The response, he said, has been positive.

“These are individuals who have put their lives on hold when they are called to deploy to serve and protect the country,” Cantor said. “We need to do right by them.”