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Workshop aims to help veterans start, expand businesses in Connecticut

By JULIA BERGMAN | The Day (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 3, 2016

ROCKY HILL, Conn. — While they only make up about 5 percent of the businesses in Connecticut, veteran-owned businesses produce about 9 percent of the total state gross domestic product.

A workshop put on Wednesday by the state Department of Veterans Affairs and the Connecticut office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, in conjunction with National Veteran Small Business Week, aimed to aid veterans in starting or expanding a business in the state.

The workshop took place at the department's Rocky Hill campus and was attended by around 50 veterans, about half of whom are looking to start a business and about half of whom already own a business.

Connecticut's 31,000 veteran-owned businesses and 10,000 partially veteran-owned businesses produce about $20 billion of the state's total $220 billion GDP, Michael Zacchea said.

Zacchea is the director of the University of Connecticut's Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities and founder of the Connecticut Veterans Chamber of Commerce, a 501(c)(6) organization that lobbies for veterans issues. He moderated a panel discussion of small-business-owning veterans in the state, the main event of the half-day workshop.

The veterans painted a picture of a challenging business environment that requires a never-give-up attitude and a willingness to work long hours. Several of the panelists pointed to heavy tax and regulatory burdens in the state, and, in some cases, issues at the local level, such as zoning regulations. Some expressed their difficulty in getting skilled and qualified workers.

But Connecticut being a small state makes it easy to meet people, the panelists said, and there are a lot of resources available for veterans looking to start or expand a business, it's just a matter of finding them and connecting with the right people.

Wednesday's workshop served as a meeting point for veterans to talk one-on-one with representatives from various organizations that provide an array of services from franchising expertise to loan assistance, and also other veterans.

Veterans Affairs Commissioner Sean Connolly pointed to a "historic" law now in place in Connecticut that benefits small-business-owning veterans.

As of Oct. 1, the Department of Administrative Services commissioner, which handles state contracts, is authorized to give up to a 15 percent preference to veteran-owned small businesses, defined as a business that is 51 percent owned by a veteran or veterans.

Already, the commissioner is authorized to give small businesses — defined as having under $3 million in revenue in the previous year — a 10 percent preference.

However, Lawrence Dapo, a former Marine who is president of a construction company and was a panelist Wednesday, pointed out that the state has "numerous" long-term contracts that have been awarded to larger employers. Dapo said he has found it "tremendously difficult" to do business through the state. He hasn't any business through the state so far, but his company is a subcontractor on a job with one of the aforementioned larger employers.

Dapo said he would soon be trying to take advantage of the new 15 percent bid preference law.

"I'll be right behind you," said Michael Thomas, another panelist and a Navy veteran who is president of a business that provides chronic care management services to veterans.

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©2016 The Day (New London, Conn.)
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