Editor’s note: The following commentary was contributed by U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. The content may be edited for clarity, style and length.
Scattered in warehouses throughout the country are the kinds of federal resources that can help make small businesses thrive — laptops and office furniture, construction equipment and farm tools that have been gathering dust, unused and unseen, year after year.
Meanwhile, thousands of American service members are returning home from war, taking off their uniform then taking a chance: trying to scrounge up enough resources to start their own small businesses, all too often struggling to stay in the black if and when they get off the ground.
Even in an era of such political gridlock, it just made no sense for these two problems to co-exist.
As of a few weeks ago, they no longer do.
After both branches of Congress overwhelmingly voted for its passage in December, my Veterans Small Business Enhancement Act became law earlier this month, allowing veteran small business owners to acquire those pieces of equipment and personal property that the federal government no longer has any use for, effectively free of charge.
Now that farmer in southern Illinois might not have to stay up at night, worried about how he’ll possibly be able to pay for that generator.
Now that veteran who returned from war and went back to school can get the computers she needs to open the doors to her very own practice.
And now American taxpayers will no longer have to foot the bill to store all those resources that belong in office buildings and cornfields.
A win-win, by anyone’s estimation.
There’s a reason veterans are twice as likely to start or lead their own companies as civilians, with roughly 10 percent of small businesses across the country run by those who’ve served, including 80,700 in Illinois alone.
It’s because no matter where they were deployed, no matter which branch they call their own, those who’ve worn the uniform have a kind of courage instilled in them that’s impossible to root out — the type of resilience and determination that can turn a longshot idea into a smooth-running, profit-making business.
Yet thanks to a number of factors, the number of veterans leading their own companies is plummeting as compared to generations past. While a staggering 49.7 percent of World War II veterans went on to run or own businesses, followed by 40 percent of Korean War veterans, just 4.5 percent of those who served after Sept. 11, 2001, had launched their own businesses as of late 2016.
We know that veterans are far more likely to hire other veterans, especially those who are struggling with the wounds of war, both visible and otherwise. So fewer vets at the helm of companies means fewer vets throughout the ranks, too. Fewer learning the ropes of an industry. Fewer climbing the ladder to the top. Fewer who, someday, might start a business of their own.
My hope is that this bill will help change all that, beginning to reverse the trend of entrepreneurship among recent veterans and, in doing so, getting more of our heroes get hired and trained today so they can succeed tomorrow.
These women and men risked their lives for the rest of us overseas. It was way past time for us to pass legislation that looks out for them when they step back onto U.S. soil.
So to all those veterans who own or are looking to start small businesses, this bill is for you. And all you have to do to begin laying claim to those unused items and their untapped potential is click here to contact your local state agency.