Small business dos and don’ts for military veterans

by November 7, 2013

Economic and other challenges facing military veterans tend to get the spotlight this time of year, as the annual commemoration of Veterans Day on Nov. 11 looms.  In addition to the short-term freebies, promotions and discounts offered to service members next week,  substantive business stories abound.  From jobs and hiring to enterpreneurism to special programs like VA home loans, there are angles for business beats like health care, residential real estate, financial services, and beyond.

Veteran's Day 2012 Sacramento, California

Recording the moment on Veteran’s Day 2012 Sacramento, Calif. Photo: Larry Armstrong

Finding jobs for people who have left military service is the focus of numerous programs, though interestingly recent figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show that veterans overall post a slightly lower rate of unemployment than the general population over age 18.  But for “Gulf War Era II veterans” — the designation that includes post Sept. 11, 2001 veterans, the rate is more than 10 percent, and even worse for female ex-soldiers.   One angle you might look at is the expiring “Returning Heros Tax Credit” that compensates businesses for hiring veterans; it fizzles out at the end of this year, though a Senate bill is afoot to extend the credit, which can be worth up to $5,600 for participating companies.  You might check with some small business accountants to see if any of their clients are taking the credit, and if they’ll connect you with those employers.  This older fact sheet from WhiteHouse.gov has a list of state coordinators, as well; they might be able to point you to some businesses that use the credit so you can get their take on the expiration.  And here’s a report via The Blaze on the American Legion’s top companies for hiring veterans, in case any are in your region.

Veteran's Day 2012 Sacramento, California

Veteran’s Day parade in Sacramento, Calif., in 2012. Photo: Larry Armstrong

It’s no secret that Starbucks has just announced a program that will help it hire up to 10,000 veterans and their spouses; Walmart made a similar pledge of jobs for former soldiers earlier this year.   Clearly you can check in with your area Walmarts for some success stories, or otherwise.  Special jobs fairs for veterans also are a resource to pursue.

And the franchise industry, as Businessweek reports, “praises itself for recruiting veterans.”  Note the reporting on the high default rate for “patriot express loans” that were supposed to help returning soldiers jumpstart their own small businesses; the Businessweek article says taxpayers lost $31 million to default over five years.   This September 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office says the Small Business Administration — which currently is amid its annual Veterans Small Business Week — should tighten controls over the loan program, under which more than $700 millions in loans have defaulted at a higher-than-average rate.  One can’t help but wonder if predatory marketing of “business opportunities” to ill-prepared veterans is part of the problem, and in whose pockets some of those millions ended up.  You might want to check in with bankruptcy attorneys, credit counseling agencies and programs that directly serve verterans to locate some failed-business case studies.

Another idea for finding veteran-owed companies is the Buy Veterans business directory; the site, operated by the National Veteran-Owned Business Association, has a search engine that pulls up veteran-owned companies complete with map, by ZIP code.  I found firms ranging from chain auto fix-it shops to brokerage firms to tool & die makers with just a few searches in my neck of the woods.  I imagine older privately-owned companies are fairly likely to be headed by someone who served at one time or another, when joining the military after high school was more common, so I’m not sure that mere fact of veteran ownership is newsworthy.  But you might cull the hits from the directly and find some recent success stories from among the demographic that is currently struglling with high jobless rates and other economic woes.