Military vet scores with government contract

Rumor has it that small business is going to be the engine that will deliver us from this economic mess.

Rumor also has it that lots of military vets live here.

Arthur Salus

Arthur Salus

This column brings together both rumors with a story about Arthur Salus, a small businessman and disabled vet (cracked his leg during parachute training) who scored big with a government contract.

His company, Duluth Travel, is the prime contractor for the Department of Veterans Affairs. That means Salus handles the travel needs of 100,000 V.A. employees, patients and family members. It also means his company’s annual revenue skyrocketed to $80 million, from $8 million. That’s a pretty steep climb from when he started the business in 1993 by borrowing $5,000 on his credit card.

While the road to government contracts had plenty of bumps for Salus, now 60, he thinks others will find a smoother path. And he thinks more small business owners should try to tap into this pipeline, especially during these tough times.

“The government pays. It won’t be going out of business,” he said.

Small businesses are supposed to get a 23 percent share of federal contracts. Disabled vets are supposed to get a 3 percent share.

For the V.A. only, which gives out about $12 billion in contracts, vets are supposed to get 8 percent, with service-disabled vets getting another 3 percent.

Before getting involved with the government, Salus was worried about the future of his business, as he watched thousands of other travel agencies close shop during the past decade. The growth of online reservation systems and the loss of commissions from airlines contributed to their demise.

To survive, Salus started climbing into the world of government contracts in 2003, only to discover that some of the government’s stated goals for small businesses and disabled vets were not being met.

“I sent 35 letters to all sorts of government agencies and only got four responses,” he said, adding they were all negative.

A smooth-talking salesman by trade (he sold cars at one point in his career), Salus decided to get to work. He even testified before Congress about how government agencies were not following federal rules.

Over the past few years, Salus said, the situation has improved, although slowly.

Since he did not have previous experience with the government, he could not win a prime contract. He had to hook up with a big travel company and become its subcontractor about six years ago. After doing that for a few years and gaining experience, Salus then bid on a prime contract in 2007.

While waiting for the verdict on which company would become the V.A.’s main travel agency for five years, Salus didn’t twiddle his thumbs in Gwinnett. He traveled to Washington several times, walking the halls of Congress and the V.A. to schmooze with any politician or bureaucrat he could corner.

He won the contract, attributing his success to networking and persistence.

“Face to face is very important. I was pleading my case. If I can do it, you can do it,” Salus said. “The only person that tells me ‘no’ is my wife. … ‘No’ to me means ‘maybe’.”

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6 comments Add your comment

TnGelding

March 23rd, 2010
7:08 am

Well, I thnk that rumor is false. We need big business to step up to the plate. Many small businesses are a drain on the economy and don’t pay income taxes; just enriching the owners at our expense. Granted, most of them work very hard.

This is not an isolated case. The revolving door at the Pentagon is as bad as the one in Congress. Although this gentleman should be congratulated for his persistence and success, is this really what we need? Maybe the quotas should be removed and the contracts awarded on meirt only. In this day and time should the VA even need such a service? Since he has overcome his disability, maybe his payments should be stopped? We have to do something to get the federal budget under control. Many retired veterans are double or triple-dipping. A few are probably quad. See the 1040 of John S. McCain online. How many other members of Congress are doing the same? We know VP Biden, although not a retired veteran, is as well.

The Dogfighter Returns

March 23rd, 2010
1:58 pm

this dude is laughing all the way to the bank thanks to taxpayers. the government confiscates our money to enrich others.

wow what a fantastic system.

“The government pays. It won’t be going out of business,”

no sh*t :)

TnGelding

March 23rd, 2010
3:11 pm

The tentacles of the federal budget are long and run deep into our economy. That’s why you can’t just cut spending to balance the budget. Revenue would decrease as well.

Anyone willing to take on the challenges of running a business certainly has my respect. I knew from a very early age I didn’t want the hassle of the red tape and personnel problems.

BUCKMASTER

March 23rd, 2010
7:27 pm

The first step towards Socialisim was signed by O-DOG today, before long you will work all week and only recieve a voucher, good for food and housing.. The rest will go for your heath care…..PEACE

TnGelding

March 24th, 2010
7:39 am

BUCKMASTER

March 23rd, 2010
7:27 pm

Ah, the good old days before the labor unions.

TheArchitect

April 6th, 2010
5:20 am

To me, this story shows Capitalism most simple form. A business leader once said, “The game is the same but the winners are those who persist.” In business, you hunt for ANY opportunity and Mr. Salus should be congratulated for his success in these tough times. Finding opportunity while other businesses have closed is creativity and persistence. Hats off for going to the Government and reminding them, what commitments they made when they asked for your vote.