Isanti man receives ‘Veteran Advocate of Year’ award

Alan Duff doesn’t just talk about supporting his fellow military veteran, he walks the walk, too, as evident by his persistent advocacy and a recent award for his efforts.

Duff, of Isanti, received the 2013 Veteran Advocate of the Year award by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal on July 18. He was nominated by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who publicly congratulated him last week.

Alan Duff
Alan Duff

“The Office of the Secretary of State has worked closely with Mr. Duff over the past two years, and I know his devotion and effectiveness,” Ritchie said. “He is well-deserving of this award for all he has done for veterans across the state. These remarkable accomplishments show that our state does care for those who sacrifice for us all.”

Duff is being honored, in large part, for his help in doubling the number of verified veteran-owned businesses in the state, launching Minnesota from 40th to fifth best in the nation for vet-owned businesses per veteran population. At present, the number of vet-owned companies in Minnesota stands at 138.

On his Veteran Advocate of the Year award, “I’m humbled beyond belief,” he said in an interview last week. “My heart was pumping with joy when I was called to the podium. But it takes a team, and we had unified goals, targets to go after. There are a lot of good veterans in Minnesota doing a lot of good things. Fighting for veteran rights is extremely exciting.”

Vets make strong business leaders

Many may know Duff from his days on Isanti City Council and the Isanti County Board of Commissioners. Many more know this military veteran through his work on enhancing Minnesota’s status as a veteran-friendly state.

For instance, as Ritchie pointed out in his nomination, Duff testified in support of 2012 veteran preference amendments that would help facilitate the transition of veterans from military to civilian life. As for his hand in doubling the number of veteran-owned businesses in the state, it was through an aggressive outreach campaign to find, verify and connect veteran business owners with vet-friendly organizations.

“Veterans are determined, leading entrepreneurs nationwide,” Duff said.

When asked of the characteristics that make veterans leaders in the workplace, he mentioned, “Loyalty, commitment to teamwork, self starters, disciplined, hard work ethic, and the majority have good technology skills. It’s something (human resource) directors have trouble finding,” he added.

In addition, Duff has helped to reduce Minnesota’s veteran unemployment rate from over 20 percent to as low as 5 percent. This, while he has worked with other veteran leaders to implement a veteran small business foundation to sustain this progress into the future.

After becoming involved with various veteran organizations at the capital in 2009, he noticed numerous forms of discrimination against disabled veterans and began working with key groups to improve the situation. With Minnesota ranked as one of the lowest veteran-friendly states for disabled veterans at the time, Duff worked to expand an initial veteran’s bill that passed unanimously in the state House, Senate and was signed by the governor in 2012.

That same year, his company, Duff Consulting, LLC, received a Veteran’s Outreach project with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to increase the agency’s contract work with veteran-owned businesses. In 12 months, he and his project team doubled the number of verified veteran-owned businesses in Minnesota while improving the state’s ranking from 40th to fifth in the nation for veteran-owned businesses.

Duff spoke with over 1,000 veterans over the course of the project, and he was touched at the stories of past discrimination and lost businesses, especially with Vietnam-era veterans.

He was especially grateful when neighboring Chisago County became Minnesota’s first county to implement a veteran-business preference policy.

In fact, his company was recently hired as part of a team to help find 600 minorities, women and veteran construction workers for the new Vikings stadium, which is expected to break ground this fall. Wanted disciplines are carpenters, electricians, bricklayers, sheet metal workers, operators, iron workers, plumbers/pipefitters and laborers, he said. If interested, contact Alan at [email protected]

Duff retired from the military in 2005 after 23 years in the U.S. Army. His military service included promoting family support groups around the nation after commanding a local effort that kept families together during a nine-month deployment to Bosnia in 1994.

Major Duff received the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for this work, which has evolved into the modern-day “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.”