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Program would funnel city dollars to veteran-owned businessesPittsburgh City Council gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would funnel city contract dollars to veteran» owned businesses -- and that advocates said would make the city a national leader in such efforts.

Council unanimously endorsed the bill after a group of veterans, including former Steelers running back Rocky Bleier, spoke in support of it. Mr. Bleier, spokesman for National Veteran­ Owned Business Association, or NaVOBA, said it's “good business to do business" with active and former service members. The bill, introduced last week by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, focuses on funneling at least 5 percent of city contract dollars to small, veteran owned companies; that is, companies with 100 or fewer employees and in which veterans hold at least a 51 percent ownership interest. As the bill is Currently written, the 5 percent participation rate would be a goal. Before council takes a final vote Tuesday, officials study the feasibility of making the goal a mandate because, Councilman R. Daniel said, "good faith often falls short."The federal government has policies giving preferential treatment to some veteran ­owned businesses, and Matthew Pavelek, managing editor of the NaVOBA magazine Vetrepreneur, said 17 states have programs. However, he said only a handful of cities and counties have such programs, meaning Pittsburgh would be part of the vanguard. Mr. Ravensîahl said the program could be a dream to returning service members. "We think it sends a strong message that Pittsburgh is a great place to do business, especially for veterans," said Ravensiahl.Citing Small Business Administration numbers, Mr. Pavelek said 25 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans would like to start businesses. Mr. Ravenstahl isn't the only official who would like the city to become a hub for veteran entrepreneurship. "We can be that spur. We can at least give people a foot in the door," Councilman William Peduto said. Mr. Bleier, who suffered severe leg injuries in Vietnam but went on to a career that included four Super Bowls with the Steelers, said veterans are disciplined, responsible business people. He said the program could be especiaïìy beneficial in the current weak economy. The comes the federal governments push to do more for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, including "Entrepreneurship Boot Camps" for disabled veterans at several universities and special programs for female veterans and for Nationaìl Guard and Reserve members and their families. Councilman Doug Shields said the city bill would complement existing programs designed to ensure that women- and minority-owned enterprises get a fair share of contract dollars. "Veterans are men and women from all races, all colors, all creeds, all backgrounds," he said.By Joe Smydo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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