Business

Vern Buchanan-sponsored seminar in Manatee pushes veterans' business

MANATEE -- Rodney Allen is a safety guy. But he also knows making it in business sometimes demands taking a risk.

The Navy veteran left the service with a 70-percent disability rating a few years ago. In the process of building a workplace safety consulting business since 2010, the Palmetto resident needs two things: loan financing and a good line of business.

He has an MBA degree and industry experience with OSHA in Maryland. This week, he got some help navigating the money and clientele pieces of the puzzle through a veteran-specific seminar brought to town by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

That 90 minutes in a State College of Florida lecture room was what Allen needed to take the next step.

"If you're new to this program, it's so overwhelming," Allen said. "You've got to become the expert."

The event, which drew a few dozen veterans to SCF's Lakewood Ranch campus Monday, was a primer designed to pass on tips that veterans, disabled veterans and other disadvantaged business enterprises can use to secure loans and government contracts. Introduced by Buchanan and run by a Miami-based Small Business Administration official, the seminar is aimed at getting veterans to start new businesses and grow those they already have.

Buchanan, who is a well-known veteran booster in Washington, D.C., said he believes entrepreneurs are the nation's best hope to boost

the economy's growth rate. With over 70,000 veterans living in Manatee and Sarasota counties, he said this is a prime place to push veteran-owned business ventures.

"The goal is to help them grow their business and create more good-paying jobs," Buchanan said. "We want to encourage startups."

Robert Chavarria, a senior area manager with the SBA, encouraged seminar attendees who qualify to get their businesses certified as being owned by veterans or service-disabled veterans. With these designations, these businesses can compete for the 23 percent of total contracting funds set aside by the federal government each year to procure goods and services from small businesses. Three percent of total procurements are earmarked for businesses owned by disabled veterans.

This can be a lucrative line of work, Chavarria said, as the federal government spends more than $500 billion a year on contracted purchases.

Chavarria also sold his own program, encouraging veterans to apply to SBA loan programs, export assistance and surety bond and business investment programs.

Attendees recognized the seminar as a first step. To get into the government contracting game, or to secure SBA financing, they need to get their credentials certified through the SBA or VA. From there, applying for SBA help comes down to business need.

Gary Silverthorn, a disabled Army vet and CEO of Sarasota-based T1 Ammunition, said he hasn't yet needed to take a loan for his business. Already doing contract work for law enforcement, his 2-year-old company still has room to grow.

"The goal is to expand," Silverthorn said. "We're trying to figure out how to do that in this market."

Ryan Menton, a disabled Sarasota veteran who co-owns a mobile cellular phone repair service, was even more enthusiastic about utilizing preferred small business certification as a way to build a customer base. His business, iFix Mobile Technologies in Sarasota, is already profitable after just a few months of operation. But he sees the possibility for explosive growth.

"It could be huge," Menton said. "We just need to get our foot in the door."

Veterans looking to begin the process of getting contract work with the government can do so by registering with the System for Award Management at sam.gov. A registering business must have a Dun and Bradstreet number to complete the process.

The SBA has an online training available to guide applicants through the SAM process at sba.gov.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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