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Two upcoming opportunities in Midwest City aim to help military veterans find a job, find a better job or start a business.
Veterans in the metro area looking to start a business have no better friend than Victoria Armstrong. As director of the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center at Rose State College, she helps anyone who wants to start a business. But starting in November, Armstrong is ramping up her efforts directed at veterans.
“They protected the American dream,” she says. “We can help them achieve their dreams of small business ownership.”
right, Rose State’s After Careers job fair
The Patriot Express Pilot Loan Guarantee Program launched in June 2007. Managed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the program offers streamlined paperwork and enhanced guarantees and interest rates to military veterans, reservists and their spouses looking to start or enhance a small business. While any veteran can apply for the program, Armstrong will help them fill out paperwork, write a business plan and offer guidance when it comes time to visit a banker. Services at the development center are free.
“They protected the American dream. We can help them achieve their dreams of small business ownership.” —Victoria Armstrong
The SBA program directed at veterans often can guarantee 90% of a bank loan for a small business. From her experience working with other businesses, Armstrong says generally the SBA will guarantee 75%-80% of a business loan. She says the 90% guarantee from the SBA can encourage a veteran to take a chance on starting a business, and help a banker sleep better at night.
“The benefit to the businesses is they only have to come up with 10% cash collateral, and the bank is 100% covered,” she says.
Often, veterans can sell their services back to the government, although many are not sure where to begin as they step out of uniform and enter the private sector. With military training in areas such as information technology and telecommunications, logistics and other technical skills, she says many can find ways to contract with the government and find success along the way.
But the SBA program is not limited to technical work or government contracts. Armstrong says it applies to any business a veteran might open. Where she can help is walking an applicant through the process, crunching numbers, and considering if the business proposal is likely to appeal to a banker, and if it will actually turn a profit.
On Nov. 2, Armstrong will host “Operation Start-up and Grow,” at Rose State. She says it is the first of what she hopes will be many programs directed at veterans. The event will focus on things from franchising and building a brand to designing a business plan, raising money and building a successful team. From there, she plans to hold quarterly events.
“I’m designing some special programs for this,” Armstrong says.
In July, the SBA reported that since the Patriot Express program began, it has provided more than $633 million in guaranteed loans to 7,650 veterans to start or expand a small business.
“The impact of this program the last four years has meant thousands of veterans and their families have had the resources to pursue their dreams as entrepreneurs, and at the same time, create jobs and drive economic growth at a critical time for our country,” says SBA Administrator Karen Mills.
The Patriot Express loans are available for up to $500,000, the SBA reports.
For those veterans who need a job, or are looking for something better, the Midwest City Chamber of Commerce is hosting its first “Hiring Our Heroes,” Oct. 3 at the Reed Conference Center. David Burnett, director of economic development with the chamber, says it is an extension of the twice-yearly “AfterCareers” event designed to assist those transitioning from the military to the private sector.
“This is an opportunity to present your qualifications and get your foot in the door,” Burnett says.
With high nationwide unemployment rates for veterans, Burnett says events such as these are crucial. The U.S. Department of Labor reports 1.02 million unemployed veterans nationwide, with an estimated 10,387 unemployed veterans in Oklahoma. California has an estimated 102,730 unemployed veterans, and Texas has about 64,000. Oklahoma falls about in the middle.
“We’re doing better than some,” Burnett says. “But still there are still 10,000 unemployed American veterans in Oklahoma.”