With a little help from the state, veterans can help the state in turn

John Baker
John Baker is a partner in the Baker Williams Law Firm.
Submitted photo

Most veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming back changed men and women. They have been through some of the best leadership training offered anywhere in the world and they have been tested by some of most demanding environments anywhere. They are ready to change the world around them.

They have made a difference in Iraq and Afghanistan and are now ready to make a difference here in Minnesota. But first they must make the difficult transition from warrior to citizen, and in times of high unemployment that transition is even more difficult. They are our next "greatest generation" of veterans; they just need a little assistance in getting started.

On Tuesday the office of Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Major Gen. Larry Shellito, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, are hosting a Veteran's Entrepreneur Seminar. The seminar is designed to help our next greatest generation of veterans become our next generation of business and community leaders.

This seminar stems from a law the governor signed this year providing micro-loans for veterans to start a business. Last fall, Sen. Linda Higgins was approached with the idea of taking an existing law, which was called the Veteran Economic Harm law, and tweaking it a bit to help veterans start businesses. The economic harm law was passed three years ago to provide up to a $20,000 interest-free loan to guardsmen and reservists who owned small businesses to help keep their businesses afloat while they were deployed. I know that if I was still in the military and had to deploy, my law firm could not sustain itself.

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Higgins thought it would be an excellent idea to turn the existing funding into a revolving loan program to help veterans start a business. Rep. Jerry Newton sponsored the legislation in the House.

I testified in front of Rep. Tom Rukavina's Higher Education and Workforce Development committee. Rukavina told of a recent celebration of businesses that had operated on the Iron Range for 50 years or more. He observed that 90 percent of those businesses were started by veterans of World War II.

In other words, the Greatest Generation helped bring this country out of World war II and the Great Depression, and has been employing people ever since.

As we know, it is the small business that employs the greatest number of people in this country. With a little help, like loans to help start businesses, this generation of veterans can help bring the state out of this economic downturn and get Minnesotans back to work.

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John Baker is a partner in the Baker Williams Law Firm. He retired from the Marine Corps after serving 22 years. He chairs the Veterans Advocacy Institute and is the chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association Military Law Committee. He is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.