When U.S. Army veteran Paul Dillon came back from Vietnam, nobody seemed to notice.
"Now, it's a wonderful thing to see everybody caring," said the Tinley resident, who owns a Chicago-based consulting firm. "It's about time."
Dillon was among a group of about 75 supporters gathered Friday afternoon at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2791 in Tinley Park, anxiously awaiting a visit from Gov. Pat Quinn. He signed Senate Bill 1270 at the event, which he said will help boost small businesses owned by Illinois veterans, like Dillon.
Under the law, the state will set an annual goal of 3 percent of every state contract to be earmarked for businesses owned by servicemen. Those businesses must take in $75 million or less in annual gross sales, officials said. Larger veteran-owned businesses can apply for an exemption if they can prove that a significant number of veteran-owned suppliers or subcontractors would benefit.
"Veterans who have taken the initiative to start small businesses and help create jobs should be supported when competing for government contracts," Quinn said. "We must honor the men and women who have honorably served our country."
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Maggie Crotty, D-Oak Forest, and Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora. Both were also at the VFW to thank those who helped along the way.
"We are the first state in this country that has passed legislation like this," Crotty said, later noting that her husband was a U.S. Marine who served during Vietnam. "More states will follow us."
Vietnam veteran and business owner Michael Trinski said he looks forward to hiring more servicemen to work at his Wilmot, Wisc.-based transportation company. Unemployment rates for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan stood at 12.5 percent in February, with estimates as high as 21 percent for Guard and Reserve members, he said.
Crotty cited a Bureau on Labor statistics report in her speech, saying that 18- to 24-year-old men who have returned from service since September 2001 had an unemployment rate of 21.9 percent in 2010.
"Our mission is to support as many veterans as possible," Trinski said. "If we can trickle this down and pay it forward, that would benefit everyone."