Veterans Bring Unique Skills to Business Recovery in Pacific Northwest

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Jeremy Field and Steve Watts-Oelrich

By Jeremy Field, U.S. Small Business Administration, and Steve Watts-Oelrich, Veterans Business Outreach Center.

As we approach Veterans Day, it’s important to honor the contributions of service members and veterans to our safety and security; and, to acknowledge the skills and perspective veteran-owned small businesses bring to the business world.

Nearly one in 10 small businesses is owned by a veteran. Collectively, they contribute more than $1 trillion to our nation’s economy. In fact, as we navigate through an unprecedented economic environment, the experience veterans bring from their military service greatly benefits our ability to weather the storm and persist.

This is due to the adaptability veteran-owned small business owners bring from their service.

Similar to many situations encountered in military service, we are in a rapidly moving and changing environment. In military service, the situation can quickly change, and service members need to immediately access the situation and change course to survive. The same is true for many small business owners who find themselves in a similar unfamiliar environment.

While veterans’ ability to adapt serves them well in business, it does not mean they need to go about it alone.

National Veterans Small Business Week logoThe same way that veterans relied on their unit to collectively problem-solve and accomplish their mission, veteran-owned small business owners have a network of organizations dedicated to the success of their business.

As a veteran [Steve] who ran businesses without SBA help, I understand the great need for the SBA and its resource partners. I was not as successful in my businesses as I could have been. So I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was four years ago when I became employed by the Region X Veterans Business Outreach Center and learned about the training and coaching available to veterans, their spouses and other eligible persons.

Moreover, I was very pleased to learn the Department of Defense upped the transition program since I separated. When I left the service, transition training for exiting service members was almost a full day. Now, it is longer to include various tracks, including the two-day introduction to entrepreneurship course we offer – called Boots to Business – that both service members and spouses can take.

In fact, in Fiscal Year 2020 alone, there were more than 21,000 participants in the Boots to Business program, an all-time record.

The SBA and Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) team up to support veterans in the Pacific Northwest at every stage of their business lifecycle. Whether it’s on-on-one business advising, webinars on various business topics, access to financing – like the approximately $835 million in SBA loans that went to veterans nationwide during Fiscal Year 2020 – or the two-day Boots to Business program, our organizations work together to empower veterans, active duty service members and military spouses to live the American Dream of business ownership.

Take Boba Toons in Oak Harbor, Washington for example.

Veteran Dale C. Reyes Johnson took a virtual Boots to Business class earlier this year taught by accredited business coaches from the VBOC. He then signed up to receive individual business coaching from VBOC for his cartoon-themed boba tea startup that will provide the first boba tea shop to Whidbey Island, meeting a critical need and providing a meeting space for the Whidbey Island community.

Or learn from Farm Unlimited in North Bend, Oregon.

This 100% veteran-owned firm provides technical forestry consulting services to small and large timberland owners across Oregon. Owner Eric Farm started working with a VBOC coach in 2016 and continues to work with his coach today. He recently entered the annual Impact Pitch competition hosted by VBOC host organization Business Impact NW and won both the Early Stage and Business Model awards. These awards will allow Farm Unlimited to continue supporting its staff and provide meaningful employment opportunities for professionals in rural southwest Oregon.

We’re also inspired by Leisureland RV Center in Boise, Idaho.

As a disabled veteran, John DeHoff’s 25 years of military service in the U.S. Air Force brought him to attend the SBA Boots to Business course at Mountain Home Air Force Base where he broadened his business knowledge. Together with his wife Carina, they took the leap to launch their own pre-owned RV dealership. Equipped with the skills learned in the Boots to Business course, Leisureland RV Center has grown to 15 employees and enjoys hiring fellow veterans. The company started with $23,000 in capital and within three years has grown to more than $4 million.

These are just a few examples of the veteran-owned businesses we get the privilege to support. Veterans have the drive, passion and dedication needed to run businesses successfully, so long as they build a good team of business coaches and mentors who “have their six.” Instead of trying to reverse course and go back to the way things used to be, small business owners need to be forward-thinking.

Veteran-owned small businesses are a shining example of how to stay focused on the mission ahead and nimbly pivot to achieve success of that goal.

Veterans know how to adapt to changing times and circumstances and stand a strong chance of success and survival in these times based on the skills and characteristics learned and possess from serving in the military. These are lessons and attributes we can all learn from veteran-owned small businesses in these changing times.

As we look forward, the SBA and VBOC are proud to serve our region’s veteran-owned small businesses toward a successful “mission accomplished.”

Jeremy Field is the Regional Administrator for the SBA Pacific Northwest Region which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

Steve Watts-Oelrich is an Air Force veteran and Director of the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC), a program of Business Impact NW in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration. The VBOC equips veterans, active duty service members, and their spouses in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska with the resources to successfully start and run their businesses.

Access Resources to Empower Vetrepreneurs

Join the SBA at a full week of virtual events for veteran entrepreneurs hosted by the Veterans Business Outreach Center during National Veterans Small Business Week: View webinar schedule

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