Vets bring training, skills and life experiences, so why doesn’t NJ support their small businesses? | Opinion - Garden State Initiative


Business Tax, Veterans

Vets bring training, skills and life experiences, so why doesn’t NJ support their small businesses? | Opinion

By Jeff Cantor and Regina M. Egea   |   May 20, 2022


Throughout history, as people went off to war, they returned changed, often not for the better.

When service members take off their uniforms, they face life challenges that include financial insecurity, difficulty accessing capital, homelessness, medical and mental health issues, and difficulty transitioning to civilian life.

The resources of government, especially those of state governments attuned to the needs of their residents, can make a difference in easing the transition for veterans to enjoy successful careers in the private sector.

In a new report, A Promise Not Kept: NJ’s Failure to Support Veteran Owned Businesses, issued jointly by the Garden State Initiative and the New Jersey State Veterans Chamber of Commerce, we uncovered that the state of New Jersey is failing in its efforts to assist veterans in starting and maintaining businesses through preferred access to contracts the state is awarding every day.

Since 2015, New Jersey has had a public law that sets aside 3% of its state contracting agencies’ budgets for Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses. However, according to research by the State Veterans Chamber of Commerce, of the 72 state agencies that have procurement power, a mere few have awarded contracts to disabled-veteran-owned businesses, only two of 72 are enforcing the law and none are reporting their numbers as legally required.

An independent study by the Small Business Administration ranked New Jersey 49th out of 50 states for supporting veteran-owned businesses. Our report shows there’s been a complete failure of the state bureaucracy. We have a sacred obligation to support our veterans when they return home from military service and this report offers a path forward for our state to keep that commitment.

Veterans bring training, skills, and life experiences that uniquely position them to succeed in business – if given the opportunity and support in transitioning to civilian life. We need the state to do its part.

With thousands of veteran-owned businesses in our state, nearly 1,000 of which are members of the NJ State Veterans Chamber, those businesses will immediately benefit from the enforcement of existing law.

In addition to highlighting the lack of enforcement of the law, the report offers a vision for New Jersey to improve its support of veteran-owned businesses through a series of strategic initiatives. The report’s vision challenges our state government to ensure that New Jersey will join the top 25% of the best states for supporting veteran-owned businesses as defined by the Small Business Administration and meet or exceed the requirements of its 3% state-mandated Disabled Veteran Owned Business law.

Among the strategic initiatives detailed in the report are: Support veteran business advocacy through the creation of an executive task force and legislative sub-committee, enforcing or increasing the 3% DVOB set-aside law, creating legislation to better support veteran economic development, implementing policy changes to better support veteran economic development and the formalization of the creation of a veteran economic development leadership team.

One in every 20 New Jerseyans is a veteran and this population has answered the nation’s call. An important part of caring for our nation’s military veterans includes preparing and connecting them to careers after military service.

A critical element is for the state to live up to its obligations, especially those that are enshrined in the law. We call upon the Governor, Assembly Speaker Coughlin and Senate President Scutari to immediately convene the executive branch task force and legislative select committees recommended in the report as a first step to meeting our state’s promise to those who served.

Col. Jeff Cantor (U.S. Army, ret.) is the founder and CEO of the NJ State Veterans Chamber of Commerce and Regina M. Egea is the president of the Garden State Initiative.