Tracy Solomon’s business cards depict three photographs of uniformed veterans — himself, his father, and his grandfather — but this service-disabled Navy veteran doesn’t dwell on the injuries he sustained during the first Gulf War. He’d rather talk about how his small business can help Sandia researchers get the test and measurement equipment they need and how his company’s services add value to their purchases.
Solomon’s company, TEVET LLC — short for Test Equipment Veterans — is a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) that provides equipment from manufacturers such as Agilent Technologies.
TEVET is one of 120 veteran-owned companies doing business at the Labs whose owners have started companies after serving in the military or being wounded while serving.
The owners are known as “vetrepreneurs,” and under federal law, Sandia can set aside procurement contracts for veteran-owned companies and SDVOSBs, recruit them, and advocate for them.
Toni Leon Kovarik, an advocate in Small Business Utilization Dept. 10222 for veteran-owned businesses, says contract-related payments to veteran-owned small businesses were more than $20 million in fiscal year 2009, including about $3.1 million to SDVOSBs.
Toni recruits veteran-owned firms to bid on contracts at Sandia, attending events and holding office hours at the Veterans Procurement Assistance Center in Albuquerque.
John Smatana, vice president of sales for Factory Express, a certified SDVOSB, was introduced to Toni through the center. That initial contact eventually resulted in a contract for the Albuquerque office supply firm to supply and service high-security paper shredders, as well as other supplies and equipment repair, at Sandia.
Consistency of work makes a difference
Smatana and CEO David Zimpelman, who was diagnosed with a serious medical condition while serving at Kirtland Air Force Base in the 1980s, say the consistency of the work with Sandia has helped the company weather the recent economic downturn and helped it keep a full-time service technician on board, which helps all its New Mexico customers.
Smatana says the company carries the red, white, and blue SDVOSB logo on its website and letterhead.
Being registered as an SDVOSB “adds legitimacy to the company for the government purchasers. I think the next step is making sure that they have the opportunities for the service-disabled veteran-owned companies. I think they’re out there, but I think there’s a lot more that could be set aside,” he says.
Toni also works with small businesses to prepare them to bid on projects at the Labs and to work with Sandia, which typically has more business requirements than the private sector, and sometimes encourages companies to partner to provide goods and services to the Labs.
“Working with veterans is an honor,” Toni says. “We have some people who have just returned from service. To be able to help point them in the right direction, toward services that will help them grow their companies, means a lot.”
Set-asides are competitive in marketplace
Toni also helps veteran-owned companies and SDVOSBs through her work inside the Labs by learning about pending contracts that such firms could bid on and by working with Sandia’s contracting representatives to encourage them to set aside contracts for such companies.
Jeff Miller (10248), a contracting representative, recently set aside a Just In Time (JIT) agreement for SDVOSBs to provide Cisco networking hardware to the Labs. A decision on the agreement, estimated to be worth about $3.5 million for up to seven years, is expected to be made later this month.
Because he’s spending taxpayer money, Jeff says he needs to make sure set-asides are still competitive by ensuring that the Labs can select from a pool of highly qualified companies.
“We don’t think there will be any detriment to Sandia because there are enough qualified companies out there that can offer the service we need, as well as good competitive pricing,” he says.
Zimpelman agrees that set-aside contracts cannot be handouts. Veteran-owned businesses need to earn their business and offer competitive prices and quality, but he thinks programs to help such companies are good public policy.
“The reason to support that is that we need to have some patriotism. Let’s take care of those who took care of our country,” he said. “I think it’s good that this society as a whole supports those who are making a sacrifice.”
Solomon agrees: “A young man or woman who enters military service is making a conscious decision to step forward and sign themselves over as property to their government to do with them what they will and to be placed in harm’s way, if necessary, in order to protect and preserve this great nation. So I think it’s important, especially in the veteran community, that the government does something for those who were willing to sacrifice.”
Son and grandson of veterans
Solomon, the son of a Vietnam veteran wounded in the Tet Offensive and the grandson of a World War II veteran who was wounded after escaping from capture during the Bataan Death March, continues to suffer from pain due to his own injuries incurred during the first Gulf War, but overcame those obstacles and led a successful corporate career before starting TEVET. Both his father and grandfather received Purple Hearts.
He could have located the new company anywhere, but he chose to start his business to help those in his rural Appalachian hometown of Greeneville, Tenn., a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone), in 2003.
For companies like TEVET — which obtained the first SDVOSB and HUBZone competitive set-aside procurement at Sandia — these set-asides have meant economic development and job creation.
Sixty percent of TEVET’s workforce is veterans and the company just secured a 7,500-square-foot facility in Tennessee, Solomon says. The company also has seen its revenue grow each year, nearly doubling in 2010.
When TEVET began working with Sandia in 2009, the company opened an office in Albuquerque, and Solomon expects to expand further in 2011.
“Our goal is to grow our footprint in New Mexico, hiring people here locally,” Solomon says.