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Last updated: Mon. Jun. 02, 2014 - 01:38 pm EDT

Indiana program awarding contracts to veterans falls short

INDIANAPOLIS — A program targeting state contracts to veteran-owned businesses has gotten off to a slow start.

Gov. Mike Pence set a 3 percent goal for contracts when the program started last July. With one year almost in the books, only eight Veterans Business Enterprises have received contracts, according to data from the Indiana Department of Administration.

Awards have totaled $811,000 – $251,000 as prime contractors and $559,000 as subcontractors.

To reach the 3 percent goal, the veteran contracts would have to reach about $2.2 million.

“This program began in July 2013 and was available to bidders on new state contracts,” said Connie Smith, communications director director for the Department of Administration. “A (request for proposal) can take 6 months or longer so it will be some time before contracts to veteran-owned businesses reach 3 percent.”

The state relies largely on a federal program for certification. There are 158 Indiana veteran-owned businesses with federal verification. In addition, those companies must provide a letter from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

So far there are 83 Indiana veterans business enterprises registered with the state.

Six from northeast Indiana have certification, although none has won a contract. Several haven't even tried yet.

“I've been looking into it,” said Garry Schaaf, 63. “It's a great program. The intent is good. I think they need a significant education campaign.”

The Fort Wayne veteran served in the Army for two years in the 1970s after being drafted. He was a combat engineer in mine sweep and demolition and lost part of his hearing.

He is now a mechanical engineer with a master's degree in business and runs Ross Development Inc. His company can bid on assembly or machining work. Or Schaaf can set up a warehouse and team with a large supplier on projects.

Mike Sutton, owner of Parametric Machining in Huntertown, is federally certified but hasn't registered for the state program.

“I have heard a little about it but how it works is a bit sketchy,” he said. And he isn't sure whether there are any state machining contracts that he could bid on.

The 53-year-old served in the Air Force in the early 1980s.

Many veteran-owned businesses are construction firms and the state veteran's business enterprises program is a goods and services program created under a separate procurement statute, Smith said.

Public works projects – buildings and roads, for example – don't have a veteran business provision.

No price preference is given on veteran bids, although a few extra points are added to a bid score if a veteran-owned business enterprise is included as a subcontractor. When Indiana Veterans Business Enterprises submit bids as prime contractors, they receive the 15 percent small-business preference.

Smith said a change in scoring for procurement awards is being considered to promote minorities, women and veterans the opportunities as prime contractors as well as subcontractors.

So far, the contracts given have covered engineering services, landscaping, filters, promotional products and consulting.

Greg Medcalf said his company, Tiger Solutions International LLC in Avon, was the first to receive a contract under the program. Since then, he has received several other awards, from inspecting Medicaid facilities to delivering and warehousing police radios.

“The projects are really helping,” he said. “I really like that they made a program to help veterans.”

He served during Vietnam.

Richard Jewell, past commander of the Indiana American Legion, serves on the Veterans Affairs Commission and said he hasn't heard much about the program. A report is expected this fall.

“We really thought it would do great things, so I wouldn't mind seeing that myself,” he said.

“It is a good idea, but down (in southern Indiana) we don't see contracts filter down this way,” he said.

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