SBA: Veterans take skill sets to the business world
While in the military, veterans often had to take orders from their superiors.

But for some who have moved beyond the armed forces, listening to others is no longer in the cards.

According to a U.S. Small Business Administration survey, 22 percent of veterans are either purchasing or starting a new business, or considering the idea of launching an enterprise.

And more than one-third of both "new veteran-entrepreneurs" and current veteran business owners said that they've gained skills from their active duty service that were directly relevant to business ownership.

The national trend has taken root on Long Island, where the number of veterans seeking assistance through the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State University increases by 10 percent to 15 percent each year, according to John Narciso, the Veteran s Business Outreach Program regional coordinator.

VBOP, which is operated by the SBDC, is marketed through the Veterans Service Agency in Nassau and Suffolk and the Department of Labor.

Narciso, a retired U.S. Navy captain, added that the need for small-business development assistance for veterans will only climb further as more military personnel return from active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.

As for what professions veterans enter, "There is no one area they particularly gravitate to," Narciso said. "A lot are home-based because it's easier to start there."

He also said that home repair businesses are popular because of low startup costs. However, he said, he works with industries across the board.

Bill Levine, the owner of WL Concepts & Production, a graphic communications firm in Uniondale, learned about VBOP when in 2000 he signed up for unemployment and indicated he was a veteran. Levine, who served as a store supplies manager for the Navy in Vietnam, said Narciso helped him with his business plan.

Through VBOP, Levine became certified as a disabled veteran, although he declined to specify his disability. Because he is a certified disabled veteran, he's bidding for certain federal set-aside work and has found that so far buyers are "very interested in working with disabled veteran-owned businesses."

Veterans often carry over the skills they pick up in the military into their daily business operations, Narciso said.

For Levine, the most obvious carry-over was the work ethic. "There's a constant drive to perform well" both in the Navy and as a business owner, he said. And there's no such thing as 9-to-5.

These are also the qualities he looks for when interviewing job candidates.

"When you hire a veteran, you're hiring a work ethic," Levine said.

For Ken Palmer, the crossover skill was the ability to work as part of a team. Palmer, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force in electronic communications, and up until 1980 served in the Air National Guard, now owns Yaphank-based Palmer Truck Bodies, which he opened in 2003.

He'd tried his hand at entrepreneurship with a cleaning franchise in the past, but "it wasn t what I was looking for. I wanted to do something in manufacturing," he said.

Through VBOP, Palmer was able to access financing. He has two full-time employees and expects to hire one or two more in March.

His military service gives him the confidence to handle any on-the-job situation, he said.

In the military, "I ran a team of five people, setting up communications in emergency situations," he said. "I have a solid background in getting the job done."

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