Comstock's magazine 1118 - November 2018 - Page 57

Overall, the ranks of the self-employed (which includes inde- pendent contractors) has fallen from 11 to 10 percent between 2005 and 2014. The decline is greater within the veteran popu- lation from 15 to 12 percent. And the overall share of veterans starting their own busi- ness isn’t as high as it once was. After World War II, nearly half of veterans owned or operated their own business, ac- cording to Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. That’s in large part because the employment landscape has changed over the decades, says Rosalinda Maury, director of the institute’s Applied Research and Analytics division. To- day, there are more options for veterans in the workforce who are transitioning to civilian life. Private employers are seeking veterans because they see the valuable skills someone with a military background can bring to their company, says Maury, whose institute also helps run a Boots to Business program for outgoing service- men and women who want to start their own ventures. In terms of what veterans chose to do when they return to civilian life, “There’s definitely competition to business own- ership,” Maury says. “There are a number of different things you can be doing.” Another part of the issue, experts say, is that veterans don’t often view themselves as having the characteristics of a busi- ness owner, even though many are disciplined self-starters who know how to work with others and can execute a plan or idea from beginning to end. “They don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs be- cause their lives are so regimented in the military,” says Niki Peterson, senior program manager at UC Davis’ Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “But they make such good candidates.” That’s because in the military, Peterson says, men and women learn to be resourceful, rely on team members and lead — all traits that can make a successful business owner for many members of the military, even the rank and file. Peterson plans to take this message to Travis Air Force Base this December when she gives a keynote speech to vet- erans about connecting to the array of resources available to them when they leave the military. She wants to encourage service men and women who might have a business idea to come to the institute’s Big Bang! Business Competition — a free, open-to-the public contest that provides mentors and workshops to guide contestants in formulating a business plan, identifying potential customers and discovering whether their idea could work. The winners can receive up to $15,000 in prize money. “Being in business for yourself is certainly not for the faint of heart,” Peterson says. “I believe veterans should feel en- couraged that they are, indeed, cut out for it.” The Veteran perspective Sacramento County is home to roughly 90,000 veterans, but they have a small voice in local government. That’s something the Sacramento Board of Supervisors wants to change. In January, the board created a Veterans Advisory Commission to advise them about veterans’ issues. The idea came from a young gunnery sergeant who approached Supervisor Sue Frost with the observation that veterans were underrepresented at the county. Frost did some digging and discovered that just one seat on more than 100 county boards and commissions is desig- nated for a veteran ­— a cemetery advisory commission. “It completely shocked me,” Frost says. “Veterans need to have a voice.” Frost says she hopes the commission, made up of vet- erans, will lead to some hard conversations and on things government officials haven’t thought of or seen. The com- mission will be tasked with reporting its findings to the board once a year. “I really think that’s going to empower them and elevate them in the region,” Frost says. “I want to make sure I’m looking at all sides of every issue.” The commission is made up of five veterans serving two-year terms, who are appointed by each of the board’s five supervisors. FINDING THE RIGHT TOOLS When Michael Donoho, the former executive chef at the Wal- dorf Astoria in Boca Raton, Fla., proposed the idea of opening a restaurant to Jeff Belaski, a friend from his days in the U.S. Marines who lived in Sacramento, they didn’t even think to look for programs targeted toward veterans. Unaware of the government and private programs de- signed to help veterans, the duo bootstrapped their business — borrowing money from family, emptying their own bank accounts and turning to personal credit — to open The Waffle Experience in Natomas. Belaski describes this as a stressful and painful time. “I walked to 30 different banks, savings and loans and community banks. Nobody gave us money. Nobody wanted to touch us,” says Belaski, who was told most restaurants fail and are a bad investment. After the restaurant opened in 2014, Belaski found the Vet- erans Business Outreach Center in Sacramento, a nonprofit November 2018 | comstocksmag.com 57