Strictly Business: Helping vets get down to business




I’ve often wondered what it must have felt like to be in my father’s and my grandfather’s shoes, coming home from a nerve-jangling war, trying to figure out how to return to civilian life.

By which I mean how to attain those oh-so-important foundations of a modern American life: job security and the steady income that goes with it.

My grandfather, back from World War II in which he fought in the Philippines, ended up going to work in a steel mill. He earned a steady paycheck and a pension, too. He helped build a middle-class life for his family.

My dad, a 101st Airborne paratrooper who served in the Vietnam War, took several different jobs after he returned home, including as a telephone pole lineman. At one point, he worked for an aluminum company.

Neither of them possessed a college education.

But America was different back then. In my grandpa’s time, the country remained an industrial colossus. You didn’t have to have a four-year college degree to get a job. You could still get factory work that paid well.

In my dad’s case, perhaps, the beginning of the hollowing out of the U.S. manufacturing base had not yet fully gotten under way.

That is, you could still get a decent-paying job at a factory. Which is what my dad eventually did, taking his father-in-law’s advice — my grandpa — to apply at the same steel mill where he worked.

Nowadays, factory jobs aren’t plentiful. Education is king, we’re told. And, nationally, the unemployment rate for military vets is high. It’s worse for young veterans. From 2009 to 20011 in Washington state, for example, the average unemployment rate for veterans age 18 to 34 was 12.5 percent.

But there is help that didn’t exist in the time when my father and grandfather came home from overseas.

On this Veterans Day, new tools are emerging to help veterans transition successfully into civilian life, including building their own businesses and finding veteran-friendly employers.

Last week, I sat down with Stanley Fujii, veteran procurement liaison with the U.S. Small Business Administration, who was in Vancouver to help veterans use those tools as part of an event hosted by the Southwest Veterans’ Business Resource Center.

One of the new tools is the SBA’s “Boots to Business” initiative — — which helps those who are still in the military to prepare to launch their own businesses.

The program includes training in developing business and marketing plans, and in how to secure financing. As Fujii put it, “Boots to Business” helps soon-to-be military vets get a head start, to “get on the ground and run.”

To be sure, not every military veteran is going to find success in civilian life by opening up a business. Starting a business is hardly easy. And many veterans, particularly young ones who entered the military straight out of high school, are struggling just to find employment.

Broader changes will be needed to repair the U.S. economy, to open more doors to jobs for both military veterans and civilians. But those changes often come incrementally, slowly — and every little bit helps.

Aaron Corvin is a Columbian business reporter. 360-735-4518, Twitter:;;, or