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State building database for veteran-owned businesses

Connecticut may have as many as 31,000 veteran-owned businesses, according to Census data, but the state currently has no way to identify them.

"The best list we have has 262 (veteran-owned businesses) on it," said Anne Evans, district director for the Department of Commerce, Commercial Services Division.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and other government and agency officials spent Veterans Day traveling to different parts of the state to get the word out about the creation of a comprehensive list of veteran-owned businesses in Connecticut.

"We are here to help companies. Too many times businesses say, 'What does the government do for us?' And particularly for the veteran-owned businesses, we just need to know who you are," Evans said.

The idea is that the database will make it easier for the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and other federal and state agencies to connect with these businesses and inform them about resources and programs that might benefit them.

These resources could be anything from information about lower fees on SBA loans to defense-supplier programs that give preference to veteran-owned companies. In the future, the database could also lead to matching veterans with these veteran-owned businesses.

"The more that we can do to build that community, the greater success we'll have, because people will take advantage of services that they weren't aware of," said Seth Goodall, regional administrator for the Small Business Administration.

Nationwide, one out of 10 small businesses is owned by a veteran. Veteran-owned businesses employ six million people across the country, and earn $1.2 trillion in receipts. These are numbers that Goodall uses to demonstrate "the job impact and the overall economic impact" of these businesses.

"Often veterans ... are also extremely committed in their communities once they're successful entrepreneurs and business folks," he said.

During his New London visit to spread the news, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said that while at job fairs large employers like Electric Boat, ESPN and police departments are "very solid pipelines for people coming out of the military, there's this other sort of cohort of people who again because of all the skills they've learned, and leadership skills, and independent thinking, want to really try something new and different."

"But starting a business in Connecticut in terms of dealing with the formation of a company, getting tax questions settled and obviously trying to find the resources to start up, those aren't skills you're necessarily taught working at the submarine base," he said.

During his New Britain visit, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, "Reaching these businesses is the cornerstone of successful federal and state programs that assist veteran-owned companies. Without a comprehensive list, we know there are veteran-owned businesses in our state that stand to benefit from existing federal and state programs."

The database will only be used by state and federal agencies.

"We hope that this list - which has the potential of being maybe 20,000 to 30,000 (in total) - at least will be maybe 3,000 or 4,000," Evans said.

The Secretary of the State's Office will be reaching out to its email list of 120,000 to spread the word. Much of the outreach so far has been at the grass-roots level, with government officials holding meetings at various places across the state. Officials from the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, which will maintain the database, are contacting town halls across the state to see if they have information about veteran-owned businesses. In the future, the hope is the Connecticut state Legislature will mandate that the secretary of state include a checkbox that says "veteran-owned" on business registration forms.

"We're doing something that doesn't really cost anything, but has huge value," Evans said.

Those who would like to register on the database can do so at
http://bit.ly/1pThRsX.

j.bergman@theday.com

Twitter: JuliaSBergman

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