State Sen. Scott Frantz is attempting to revive a bill that would require state and quasi-public agencies to set aside at least 3 percent of all contracts for goods and services that exceed $10,000 for bidding by businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.
The proposal gained broad support when last introduced in the General Assembly in 2009, Frantz said, but for reasons he can’t explain it was never voted on.
“I think it’s the least we can do for someone who’s gone out and put their life on the line for this country,” said Frantz, a Riverside Republican who represents parts of Greenwich, New Canaan and Stamford as deputy minority leader in the state Senate.
Frantz was accompanied by Dean Chamberlain, a Stamford business executive, at a Feb. 19 hearing on the proposal before the General Assembly’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Chamberlain, a 1985 West Point graduate, served in the 4th Infantry Division before a shoulder injury suffered in a parachute jump forced him to cut his Army tenure short. He is currently CEO of Mischler Financial Group Inc., a certified service disabled veteran business enterprise (SDVBE) with offices in Stamford, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Newport Beach, Calif., and Red Bank, N.J.
“In anything — in diversity goals and mandates — you have to have some teeth in the legislation,” Chamberlain said. “Goals are nice, but no one adheres to goals.”
Mischler Financial, which claims its stake as the first Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) minority member firm to be designated as a SDVBE, provides debt and equity capital markets underwriting, cash management for government entities and corporations and asset management programs for investment strategies.
Without “teeth” in the legislation, Chamberlain said government agencies that require goods or services would prefer to buy them from larger, better-known companies.
“In my business, if I’m dealing with the money managers of Connecticut’s pension system, unless you have teeth in the legislation, they’re just going to deal with the Wall Street banks,” Chamberlain said.
Through the state’s existing Minority and Small Contractor’s Set Aside Program, state agencies are required to set aside a portion of their annual budgets for procurements for small businesses and minority-owned businesses.
The program aims to have at least a quarter of the state’s business be transacted with small businesses and businesses owned by minorities, women and the disabled. However, Frantz and Chamberlain noted, there is currently no stipulation that contracts be directed toward businesses owned by disabled veterans.
“We felt that this was only fair, given the number of disabled veterans in the state of Connecticut — that they should have at least a modest advantage in being able to bid on state contracts,” Frantz said.
With a high jobless rate among veterans and thousands of servicemen and women having recently returned — or set to return home soon — from combat, Chamberlain said the bill could also help to solve the state’s unemployment woes.
“As a service disabled veteran-owned firm, we view it as business owners as our duty to hire folks like ourselves,” Chamberlain said. “That doesn’t mean certain ethnic classes — that means veterans or service-disabled veterans. So any chance I can, I’m either hiring a veteran or mentoring a veteran or tutoring a veteran.”
If small businesses are the drivers behind most hiring, then veteran-owned businesses can drive down the unemployment rate among the veteran population, Chamberlain said.
“If these small businesses are service-disabled veteran firms, appropriately, they’re going to go out and try to hire folks like themselves.”