Summer 2012 Background

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Giving Mast


The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Honorable Service

Honorable Service

Chase offers business assistance to veterans through UTSA program

San Antonio businessman Jose Perez couldn’t believe what he was hearing at a briefing on military veterans. Himself a U.S. Army veteran, where he was a sergeant first class involved in counter intelligence, Perez was appalled to know that members leaving the service after deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan had unemployment rates much higher than their civilian counterparts. Try as they might, jobs in a tight economy for former soldiers were nearly nonexistent.

“That was just horrible that they could not find anything, especially with the training and the skill set they had and after what they had been through” in their overseas deployment, he said. As the wars were winding down, more veterans were returning home with little prospect of finding work after their service.

It was 2009 and Perez was running his father’s landscape construction and facilities support services company. It was a briefing from the UTSA’s Institute for Economic Development on the lack of veterans’ employment opportunities in the civilian world that made him see he had more work to do.

“I had to do something to help vets who chose to be entrepreneurs,” he said.

In 2010, with assistance from the institute, Perez launched Frontline Support Solutions, whose goal is to hire able-bodied and disabled veterans and train them in construction or facilities support services jobs. Perez’s firm will then help those who are interested in starting their own business.

“That is the least I can do for these people who have given of themselves to our country,” he said.

The business started slowly. During the first year of operation, “I was bleeding red big time, making about $68,000, but then sales jumped to $1.7 million and I had two employees,” he said.

“Helping veterans start their own business is a great way to honor their service and say ‘thank you’ for helping preserve our freedom.”

Jay Clingman, chairman of Chase in San Antonio

By the end of 2012, Perez said he and his staff of 10 workers—half of whom are veterans, including several who are disabled—will do about $4 million worth of business. He credits the institute for his success.

Now, more South Texas military veterans like Perez, who want to start their own small business as they return to civilian life, will have that opportunity. A $100,000 grant from Chase Bank to the Institute for Economic Development will allow its Veterans Business Development Program to expand services for veterans—whose 15 percent unemployment rate approaches double that of civilians.

Institute officials said more veterans are seeking help and that increasingly, ex-soldiers want to start their own businesses rather than continue the job search.

The bank “recognizes the tremendous sacrifices of our nation’s men and women in uniform,” said Jay Clingman, chairman of Chase in San Antonio. “Helping veterans start their own business is a great way to honor their service and say ‘thank you’ for helping preserve our freedom.”

The program, targeting those who live in a 10-county region surrounding Bexar County, is available to men and women who have served in the armed services, reserves or National Guard.

Veterans will have access to a host of free services, one-on-one guidance, and help with developing a business plan, conducting market research and determining financial projections, according to Curtis Mohler of the institute’s Contracting Resource Center.

Because of the region’s active and retired military population, the institute is ideally positioned to help: There are about 158,000 veterans in the region, and some 48,000 military retirees call San Antonio home.

Nationally, “about 400,000 veterans will be heading home from two war fronts, 67,000 of whom will be service-disabled,” Mohler said. They will be looking to re-integrate into society, and that means finding employment or, increasingly, starting their own business.

The Chase grant will expand services to give ex-military members business opportunities, including small business start-up information, financial planning, loan assistance, and help with government contracting and franchise ownership, said Terri Williams, the Contracting Resource Center director.

She said the program’s first-year target is the creation of eight new veteran-owned businesses and the expansion of 20 existing ones.

Perez said the program gives veterans a high level of education about setting up a small business, but does so in a way that is easily understood.

“The amount of information, training and the other services they have provided me in my business have been invaluable in helping me start my business and have it run as successfully as it has,” he said.

“The university program has been like showing me how to develop the roots, then how to water the plant and give it care, so that now the branches of the business are healthy and the whole thing is really growing.”

–Guillermo Garcia

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