Veterans have historically faced some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. While in the service, they master a range of skills and responsibilities; but after returning to civilian life, they often encounter numerous challenges in the job market. According to Mark Baird of Hire Patriots, “Most [veterans enlist] as teenagers. They get out as mature adults in many ways. But their return to civilian life is handicapped by the lack of a civilian social network and employment experience.”
These difficulties are in addition to the potential disabilities, trauma and readjustment challenges that many returning service members face.
Fortunately, though, this overall trend is changing. In fact, 2016 witnessed one of the largest-ever drops in veteran unemployment, with the jobless rate approaching 4 percent. This is much closer to the national average for America’s civilian workforce. There are several explanations for this shift.
For example, programs such as the Call of Duty Endowment help fund job training for returning service members. There’s also a nationwide push to actively recruit more veterans for high-paying jobs, thanks to the:
- U.S. Department of Labor’s Hire a Veteran Program
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Feds Hire Vets Initiative
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Careers and Employment Page
However, much of this growth can also be attributed to the rise of veteran-owned startups across the country.
The Growing Allure of Veteran-Owned Businesses
In many ways, veterans are ideally suited for the challenges of entrepreneurship. These are brave men and women who have led teams, met deadlines, mastered logistics and overcome enormous obstacles — and they’ve done this under unbelievably stressful situations.
It only makes sense that with the right support, these battle-tested veterans would thrive in today’s competitive business environment.
Fortunately, there exist a growing number of programs that are specifically designed to help veterans get their enterprises off the ground:
- The Small Business Administration makes it easier to raise capital with veteran-specific loans and grants. This government agency also provides access to federal contracting opportunities and supply chains. It even offers entrepreneurship training through its Boots to Business program.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs offers similar services through its Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). Enrollees can “gain access to economic opportunity by leveraging the federal procurement system.” In other words, qualifying veterans have an easier time securing government contracts as they launch their new businesses.
Altruism and compassion are certainly motivating factors behind these programs. Providing the tools and resources required for entrepreneurial success is a great way to “support our troops.” Yet, there’s an even better reason why the above programs exist. They provide a great return on investment.
The U.S. government has already invested heavily in our service members, providing them with the skills, training and support they need to navigate conflict zones all over the globe. Helping returning veterans leverage these talents creates more jobs across the board. It also helps to generate more tax revenues for local, state and federal governments.
How Can You Find Veteran-Owned Businesses?
As more Americans patronize veteran-owned businesses, the benefits outlined above grow exponentially; but how do you find veteran-owned businesses in your community? With the Internet, doing this type of research is easier than ever.
For example, the National Veteran-Owned Business Association maintains a massive database of more than 3 million veteran-owned businesses nationwide. You can find local shops, restaurants and organizations — all searchable by state and ZIP code.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is another great resource. There’s a local office in almost every state and territory. Simply contact the closest branch and request the most up-to-date list of veteran-owned businesses in your community.
In addition, you should keep an eye out for decals and storefront signs with the words “Veteran-Owned.” Most returning veterans are understandably proud of their service and will gladly advertise that they’re now open for business.
If you ever want to verify the legitimacy of any such businesses, you can check with online registries such as the VetBiz directory. Alternatively, you can ask your local Veterans Affairs office if you have any questions about businesses in your neighborhood.
How to Make Sure Your Veteran-Owned Business Is Found
According to a recent survey by the National Veteran-Owned Business Association, 70 percent of Americans would “prefer to do business” with veteran-owned enterprises.
If you’re lucky, displaying an American flag and “Veteran-Owned” sign may be enough to attract customers who are already primed to buy whatever goods and services you’re selling.
However, if you really want to grow your user base, consider adopting some or all of the following strategies:
- Enroll in the VetBiz Registry. People search for businesses in this directory. To apply, however, you’ll likely need a copy of your DD Form 214 discharge papers.
- If you’re going after government contracts, it’s a good idea to enroll in the (SAM) program. This is the federal database used to award procurement and supply chain bids.
- Partner with other veteran-owned businesses to launch aggressive advertising campaigns. This is especially effective if these other businesses complement your offerings.
- Offer discounts to active service members, veterans and their dependents. Doing so will help you secure loyal, lifetime customers.
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