Military veterans see both promise and potential pitfalls in a new Prince George’s County law that includes veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned companies in its Minority Business Enterprise program.
The law, which took effect in late December, allows these two types of businesses to qualify for program benefits, such as contracts restricted to MBE participation. Previously, the county’s MBE program covered only women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses based on race.
“It’s a good thing anytime you increase the amount of set-asides for a disadvantaged population, especially people so deserving of a break as veterans, said Adrian Jones, owner of HTL Enterprises, a consulting company in Fort Washington. He said county rules should mirror federal regulations.
The federal government requires that 3 percent of the total value of all prime contracts and subcontracts involve service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.
Jones, who was disabled while in the Air Force during the Gulf War in the 1990s, said he would like to see extra preference given to service-disabled veteran-owned businesses in the county. But the new change is a good start and it encourages him to try contracting with Prince George’s, he said.
Teddy Wade, owner of Teddy Wade Photography & DJ Services in Bowie, said the program will be beneficial, but the county must ensure businesses know about the contracts being let. Wade is active in the Army.
Ricky Tatum, owner of EcoLiving Technology in Landover, said he still is concerned about the “rigorous and complicated” process involved in becoming certified in the county as an MBE. Having tried to get certified a year ago, Tatum, retired from the Navy, said the process looked like it would take up to six months.
“They need to simplify it,” he said.
The change also has the support of veterans such as Wayne Gatewood Jr., whose business management company, Quality Support, is no longer eligible for the MBE program because of its size.
“It’s one thing to applaud veterans. It’s another to show you really care. These people have earned this right more than anyone else,” Gatewood said, adding that as a black business owner, he has seen fellow minority business owners agree that veterans deserve this consideration.
Many soldiers returning from Afghanistan can no longer go back to their former jobs and are starting these businesses at an economic disadvantage, said Gatewood, a retired Marine. All counties should adopt programs to help veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, he said.
Montgomery County has a contracting program that includes businesses owned by women, minorities and service-disabled veterans.
Maryland’s Small Business Preference Program grants a pay preference of 2 percent to veteran-owned businesses and 3 percent to service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. Businesses must meet certain employee and gross sales limits to qualify.
But unlike the federal program, Prince George’s MBE program does not grant double or multiple preferences to businesses that meet more than one of its MBE fields, said Roland Jones, executive director of the county’s Supplier Development & Diversity Division.
He said the change was introduced to create a business-friendly environment for returning veterans. More than 4.5 million veterans are expected to return to the greater Washington, D.C., area during the next few years, Jones said.
“We want them to feel comfortable here if they want to bring their business. They should be rewarded,” Jones said, adding that Prince George’s does not want to lag behind the federal government on this issue.
He also pointed out a problem in finding veteran-owned businesses: the lack of a national registry organization that other minority business groups have.
“It’s very much still a work in progress,” Jones said.