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In a report addressed to President Obama and timed to coincide with the current media focus on Veterans Day, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has released a list of recommendations designed to encourage the growth of the veteran-owned small business community.
The 32-page report was issued on Nov. 8 by the Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business, which was created in April 2010 by President Obama. Participants of the task force included seven federal agencies and four veterans service organizations, including The American Legion. At the recommendation of American Legion Economic Division director Joe Sharpe, the Legion was represented by former Economic Commission Chairman Dan Dellinger, a highly experienced small businessman. Dellinger says the group began bi-monthly, public meetings in September 2010 with conference calls to augment the sessions.
In the end, the task force created 18 recommendations for veteran small business development. Dellinger explains, "One of the first things we did was to extend SBA's Patriot Express program for another three years. We did that even before this (SBA) report came out. If we saw something that we could implement immediately, we did."
The SBA's Patriot Express program provides low-interest loans for the start-up, development and expansion of veteran owned small businesses. The program was set to expire last December.
Dellinger also talked of the task force's efforts to better facilitate the acquisition of small business seed and support money. "We wanted to streamline the process to get SBA loans," he said. "It was mind boggling. You basically had to take classes in order to apply for these loans. The paperwork, we thought, was too extensive, so we worked to simplify it."
In its report, the task force recommends making more money available for veteran and service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses. One method is to "leverage new and existing lending commitments as a vehicle to increase access to capital." Another is to "increase awareness access and utilization of microloans in the veteran-owned small business community." The SBA's micro-loan program provides small, short-term loans to small business concerns by making funds available to specially designated intermediary lenders, who then make loans to eligible borrowers. The average micro-loan is about $13,000 with a maximum of $50,000.
Another recommendation from the report is to "vest the GI Bill benefits as a property right, allowing veterans to use funds for both education and small business creation activities such as counseling and business financing." Dellinger expanded on this idea. "Some of the people who are in the service currently - which includes National Guard and reserve members - already have academic degrees, so educational benefits as they are now aren't really relevant. We thought, ‘Why not apply the monies that would have been expended on education toward small business opportunities?'"
The Department of Defense's Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which prepares soon-to-be discharged servicemembers for re-entry into civilian life, also drew the attention of the task force. Dellinger said the group would like to see the TAP curriculum expanded to include education about entrepreneurship. "Over the next five years," Dellinger said, "I think there are supposed to be a million servicemembers transitioning out. So, we felt it was increasingly important to give those who want to start a small business an educational background through the TAP program on how to not only go into business, but succeed in it."
Dellinger was asked what he thought the fate of the recommendations contained in the Veterans Small Business report will be. He replied, "I think what's going to happen is that the areas that are going to require money will basically languish at this point, until we get through the economic crisis we're in. But some of the other recommendations that don't require actual money - other than what's already been set aside, such as the expansion of the TAP curriculum - will go forward."
Finally, Dellinger offered praise for fellow members of the task force. "It's been an honor to serve with everybody on the committee from other veterans organizations and the government. It was very gratifying to see the government agencies work together. They went across their boundaries to help our service men and women and our veterans achieve their dreams of owning a small business."
Dellinger said it is his understanding that the task force may remain in existence for another year to monitor implementation of its recommendations.
Besides involvement in the Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business, The American Legion has been, for the past several years, staging free-of-charge small business development workshops for entrepreneurial veterans wishing to do business with the federal government. The Legion's Economic Division also maintains a Small Business Task Force to encourage the creation and growth of veteran-owned businesses.