Louisiana lawmakers will next week consider passing the Veterans First Business Initiative, aimed at encouraging veterans to start their own businesses while also connecting them with other veterans seeking employment. If passed, it would be the first effort of its kind in the nation.
Sponsored by state Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, the initiative would identify veteran-owned businesses in Louisiana, create a veteran-owned business designation that they can use, and develop a website for residents to search for various goods and services from those businesses. The website would also function as a job marketplace for veterans, allowing them to see which businesses are hiring.
It’s a legislative priority for Gov. John Bel Edwards, who mentioned the bill in his State of the State address at the beginning of session. But the bill’s most vocal proponent thus far has been Baton Rouge’s Justin Ferguson, the veteran owner of BRQ restaurant.
“When you get out of the military, there’s not much out there to help you,” says Ferguson, an army veteran who completed two tours in Iraq. “Imagine you’ve spent the last six years of your life doing one thing for your country. When you get out, it’s, ‘Thank you for your service’ and now you’re back in society and have to figure things out for yourself.”
Ferguson says he plans to use the proposed website to network with and hire fellow local veterans, many of whom he admits he doesn’t know.
“The issue right now is, we don’t know each other,” he says. “This would be part A of connecting those people.”
The bill comes as the national unemployment rate for veterans is dropping, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 4.1% in March 2018 to 2.9% last month. However, among the 326,000 unemployed veterans last year, 60% were between 18 and 54 years old.
Read the full legislation, which is pending House final passage.