National Veterans Small Business Week is an opportunity for us to, once again, reflect upon the sacrifices made by many of our fellow citizens who chose to serve in our nation’s armed forces. When we see dates like this on the calendar, we are glad that there are organizations working to help veteran businesses thrive in our community. That is the goal of the Veterans Business Outreach Center hosted at Big Sky Economic Development as we train, consult, and promote small business opportunities for veterans and their families.
National Veterans Small Business Week is our chance to celebrate and recognize the importance of veteran-owned small businesses in our community and country. Twenty years ago, Tom Brokaw’s book "The Greatest Generation," reminded us of the sacrifices and impact made by veterans and their families, not only as they saved the world in World War II, but also solidified America’s place as the globe’s economic powerhouse in the years that followed. Sometimes forgotten in conversations about our post-war resurgence was the role of veteran-owned small businesses in our country’s economic growth at that time. In fact, nearly 50 percent of World War II veterans owned a business after ending their military service, creating millions of jobs and powering our small business economy.
For those veterans who own businesses today, the impact is staggering: 2.5 million veteran-owned companies, $195 billion annual payroll, 5.8 million jobs, $1.1 trillion in revenue.
Unfortunately, post 9/11 veterans are starting their own businesses at a much lower rate than previous generations. Only 4.5 percent of post 9/11 veterans have decided to start a business upon leaving service, creating an estimated 324,000 jobs at 162,000 businesses.
Increasing the rate of veteran ownership to even the 33.3 percent level found after the Vietnam era could mean an additional one million businesses with over two million employees. For our economy, that’s a rate worth striving for. Here in Montana, with one of the highest percentages of veterans per capita in the country, that’s an effort worth making.
As a former Billings business owner, a soldier in the Montana Army National Guard, and now the director of the Veterans Business Outreach Center at Big Sky Economic Development, I have seen firsthand some of the qualities at the core of entrepreneurial success in our community: a strong sense of duty, a dedication to service, the highest level of integrity, and a commitment to a cause greater than self. I also know that those qualities are a mirror image of the individuals who serve in every branch of our armed forces.
For veterans and their spouses interested in pursuing small business ownership, the opportunity is now for your own small business success story. Join us from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8, at Canyon Creek Brewing, 3060 Gabel Road, as we celebrate our veteran businesses and learn more about resources available in our Vet Biz Community.