Don’t just thank veterans for their service — hire them for their services

National Veterans Small Business Week is annual reminder that businesses, government can do more to help

Jeff Cantor breaks down the numbers around the 10% price preference bill for disabled veteran business owners that’s kicking around the state Legislature.

Essentially, it’s this: If one company bids X amount on a state project — $100,000, for example — a veteran-owned business could bid up to 10% more — up to $109,000 in the example — and still be awarded the contract.

That’s it. But the legislation (S1866/A4042) would go a long way to helping a small business group that has long been left behind, according to Cantor — the head of the New Jersey State Veterans Chamber of Commerce.

“It has the potential of costing a little bit more, but, when you’re talking about a group of people that are disenfranchised, that have been left out of the bidding process for forever, there needs to be a way to remedy that and be inclusive of a group of people that have gotten wounded in defending our nation,” he said.

It’s unclear when the bill will be addressed in committee, but this week seems to be a perfect time to talk about them. It’s not only National Veterans Small Business Week and not only days before Veterans Day, but it’s also the week of the election — something all veterans fought to ensure we can have.

You don’t have to convince Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Ocean Twp.) — she’s one of the sponsors of the bill. And she’s determined to help veteran business owners in the state.

“We really want to help our veterans, especially our disabled veterans,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to help them?

“Veterans are people who have taken time out of their lives to help protect us and serve our country and, when they come back, they find there’s not enough things out there to help them in terms of helping them economically.”

Jeff Cantor. (New Jersey State Veterans Chamber of Commerce)

The bill wouldn’t be the first attempt to help veteran- and disabled-veteran-owned businesses. Cantor, however, said it would go a long way to correct a previous attempt — one that essentially paid zero dividends.

New Jersey passed a 3% set-aside law in 2015. The problem was, when Cantor started the New Jersey State Veterans Chamber at the end of 2018, not a single dollar had been awarded.

The rules and regulations were too hard to reach. Among other things, if more than 50% of your business comes from outside the state, you lose your classification, Cantor said.

“It’s very, very hard to do business in the state of New Jersey for veteran-owned or a disabled-veteran-owned business,” he said.

Other states, Cantor said, do it better. He points to New York, which he said awarded $133 million to veteran-owned business.

New York, Cantor said, has 800 registered businesses right now. New Jersey has 760.

New Jersey is getting better. Cantor said the Turnpike Authority, the School Development Authority, the Department of Transportation and the Economic Development Authority all have rolled out programs.

“They’ve been successful,” he said. “They’re meeting their goals and they’re awarding contracts, for the first time ever, which is great.”

Cantor also credits the Small Business Administration, which has been hosting free events for veterans online.

Cantor is pushing for more opportunities and more awareness. The 10% price preference bill will help, he said, but there’s no stopping private companies from helping now.

“We encourage people to visit the website to take a look at our membership directory to see if there’s a business in their area, so that they can support that business.”

There are plenty of them. Cantor said military veterans own one in 10 small businesses in the country. His goal is to help each of them survive and thrive. He said it’s the least he — and everyone else — can do.

“From the chamber’s standpoint, we encourage all New Jerseyans to thank those that have defended our nation and sacrificed in uniform by supporting a veteran-owned business in your area,” he said. “It’s a way you can ensure the success of those who have given so much for all of us.”