As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan come to a close and our troop levels draw down from the Middle East, the American economy is gaining access to tens of thousands of smart, disciplined and motivated men and women leaving their posts overseas to enter the work force.
We ask our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to innovate and problem solve, and they are the best in the world at it. These young men and women developed a unique skill set during their years of service in uniform. We need to make sure they have a clear path to use those skills to make a living for themselves and their families here at home.
That is why, as chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I will hold a roundtable in Washington this week in honor of Veterans Day, to hear from veterans in Louisiana and across the country on what federal programs are working to assist veterans in their transition and which need to be tuned up.
Today, there are about 2.4 million veteran-owned small businesses in America. They generate more than $1 trillion in revenue each year and employ nearly 5.8 million people. In Louisiana, we are proud to have 57,000 veteran-owned businesses that employ 145,000. Now, more than ever, our country needs innovative job creators building our economy. We need to harness the leadership potential of our service members, as well as their families, and eliminate barriers to employment or entrepreneurship.
Unfortunately, some past efforts to address the unique needs of aspiring veteran entrepreneurs have proven to be inefficient and duplicative.
For example, my committee in 2008 launched an investigation of the activities and operations of the Veterans Corporation, which had received more than $17 million in federal funds since its inception in 1999. Not only did we find that it was failing at its statutory mission of expanding technical assistance for veteran entrepreneurs, but we uncovered gross mismanagement of its federal funding. In 2012 I sponsored an amendment to eliminate the program. By cutting the fat and getting rid of redundant and ineffective veterans’ programs, we can better serve those who have served our country.
We need to focus on implementing smart, targeted programs that serve specific veteran populations, provide ongoing support, and most importantly, leverage public-private partnerships. For instance, the Boots to Business program, offered as part of the DOD’s Transition Assistance Program, provides transitioning service members with an introduction to entrepreneurship as a career option as they return to civilian life. To date, the program has reached more than 4,700 service members with impressive results.
The Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities provides cutting-edge, experiential training in entrepreneurship to veterans with service-related disabilities through a consortium of eight universities at no cost to the participants. Since 2007, the EBV program has reached more than 820 service-disabled veterans who have started more than 530 new businesses. Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship is an entrepreneurial training program specifically for female veterans held at seven locations nationwide; as of January, the program has served about 1,000 female veterans who have started over 550 new businesses. Finally, through a network of 15 Veterans Business Outreach Centers, the SBA provides ongoing support and assistance to new and existing veteran-owned small businesses.
These programs have proven themselves to be effective and successful, which is why I am planning on filing a bill to reauthorize them for the next 5 years.
The men and women of our armed forces serve our nation well and government at every level, along with our private sector and faith-based partners, can do more to provide a smooth transition home back into the workforce and opportunities for entrepreneurial success.
November 10, 2013 By Mary L. Landrieu