It’s not easy returning to civilian life. Finding a job can be especially difficult for returning members of the armed forces. Veterans have an unemployment rate of 13 percent vs. the national average of 9.1 percent, and thousands of troops will be returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming months to add to these numbers. This fall, President Obama had been urging employers to hire or train 100,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of 2012, and Congress passed a bill that provides new tax credits for businesses that hire veterans (see page 38). We found three businesses—owned and run by veterans—that have always made it a priority to hire those who have served.
Gold Coast Eagle Distributing
Every workday morning at Gold Coast Eagle Distributing’s Lakewood Ranch headquarters, everything stops. All employees listen in silence as the name and unit of a soldier, sailor or Marine killed in Iraq or Afghanistan are read over the company’s public address system.
For company president John Saputo, these solemn moments not only honor the sacrifice of fallen warriors, they revalidate the debt owed to living American veterans.
“They have priority,” Saputo says. An honorably discharged veteran who performed “significant service and kept their nose clean,” he says, goes to the front of the job line at the Anheuser-Busch distributorship, where veterans make up from 34 percent to 37 percent of the workforce.
“Even if we don’t have an opening, we would hire them and put them in the system,” he says. The “Gold Coast Eagle system” is familiar to veterans. Saputo jokes that he has been accused of running his business like a U.S. Marine Corps division. “That’s probably true,” he says, “but no one dies.”
As a U.S. Marine Corps armored vehicle commander with three years of active duty and 29 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, Saputo retired in 2005, a colonel. His last duty post: United States Central Command staff officer reporting to Gen. Tommy Franks and Gen. John Abizaid during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Veterans understand the chain of command and how to use it. They are mission-oriented,” Saputo says. “They thrive in an environment that I have developed here, which is completely goal-oriented. Pay is motivated by performance.”
A third-generation beer wholesaler, Saputo purchased his first distributorship in 1977. Since buying Gold Coast Eagle in 1996, Saputo has marched the Anheuser-Busch distributorship to a commanding market share in Sarasota and Manatee counties while supporting more than 400 charities in Sarasota and Manatee counties each year.
As job candidates, veterans never fail the company’s pre-employment drug screening, Saputo says, while about one-third of non-veteran job candidates fail. No one was laid off at Gold Coast Eagle throughout the downturn. “We followed the leadership of our veterans who have been in life-and-death situations,” Saputo says. “We hunkered down.”
Sarasota Medical Products
As Sarasota Medical Products’ workforce grows from eight to an estimated 60 during the next five years, veterans will be given preference in hiring.
“They are astute, quick learners,” says Dr. Walter Leise III, president and CEO of Sarasota Medical Products, Inc. and a former U.S. Army Cobra helicopter crew chief.
The early-stage company develops and manufactures ostomy and advanced wound care products and specializes in gentle adhesives. As a contract manufacturer and technology development partner, the company also helps design products. Leise says the entrepreneurial company will need employees who can adapt, handle stress and manage change. Veterans fit the bill.
“Veterans also bring attention to detail and discipline,” Leise says, key qualities for people who will work in the company’s ISO-certified and FDA-compliant research laboratory and on its manufacturing lines. “That’s especially important in a medical field.”
Sarasota Medical Products is 90 percent veteran-owned, and one of the few veteran-owned medical manufacturers in the country. While on active duty, Leise served in Operation Just Cause, which deposed Manuel Noriega in Panama, and later was stationed in Germany. After the service, Leise earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Chicago and an M.B.A. from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.
All of the company’s executives, including Leise’s father, are veterans. Leise doesn’t expect veteran ownership to fall below 60 percent as they add investors and workers. “It’s much easier to assimilate [veterans] into your team,” he says. “There’s a natural bond among veterans.”
Armorit, LLC is a service-disabled, veteran-owned and managed company co-founded in 2004 by Floyd Asbury and Rob Brady of ROBRADY design, Inc. The Sarasota company works with military prime contractors in the defense market on product development, systems engineering, manufacturing and life-cycle support. Its main products are military truck interior designs and manufacturing of sub-systems for military vehicles and manufacturing of components for missiles and fire control systems.
Asbury, the president and CEO, was a chief master sergeant when he retired after 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. A Vietnam-era veteran, Asbury received injuries connected to his active duty assignments. While on active duty, he was a member of the staff in the Astronautics and Computer Science Department at the U.S. Air Force Academy, worked in research and development at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, and then at the USAF Space Defense Division of Air Force Systems Command.
The company pays extra attention to veterans who apply. “I’m mission-oriented,” Asbury says. “The guys in the military don’t worry so much about political aspects or interpersonal aspects. When you define the task, they just get it done.”
Currently Armorit has five veterans in its 28-person workforce; they work in engineering, machine operations and programming in the company’s 65,000-square-foot design and manufacturing facility.
The company also has a license to manufacture small arms and is looking for an armorer, someone who can help design and fabricate new weapons. Armorit’s job posting quickly attracted two job candidates—both veterans. “Now that’s a direct skills transfer,” Asbury says.
Sources for veterans and businesses that want to hire them:
• The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, floridavets.org
• Employ Florida Vets - Agency for Workforce Innovation, veterans.employflorida.com/portals/veteran
State and Local Veterans
80,000 to 106,000
*covers Sarasota and Manatee
Source: Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, June 2011, and Floridajobs.org, floridajobs.org/docs/workforce-professionals/flvetpopulbyrwb012309.pdf
A Resource for Vets
With 1.7 million veterans, Florida is home to the second-largest per capita veterans’ population in the nation and to the third-largest population of disabled veterans. More than 156,000 Floridians have been deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom—almost 10 percent of the total deployment.
Suncoast Workforce, a nonprofit that matches employers with workers, tries to help veterans find work. Only 3,500 veterans use its services annually out of the up to 106,000 veterans in the region. “The numbers are staggering,” says Ralph Morgan, a Vietnam combat veteran and Suncoast Workforce’s local veterans employment representative, whose clients range in age from 18 to 94.
Morgan urges veterans to register with Suncoast Workforce and file a resume in the first 30 days after their release from the military so they can get the support and structure they need to find a job.
Employers like veterans as employees, he says. They have transferable skills such as a strong work ethic, ability to work in teams and a focus on achieving goals.
Tax Incentives to Hire Veterans
In November Congress passed new tax credits for hiring veterans as part of President Obama’s jobs bill. Businesses can receive up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been unemployed for longer than six months and $9,600 for hiring wounded veterans.
In addition to the tax credits, the bill also expands an education and jobs retraining program for unemployed veterans and tasks the Labor Department to figure out ways to help veterans with specialized military training and skills get industry-accepted credentials and state professional licensing.