A VetFran Progress Report: Continuing to Create Opportunities for Veterans
The year 2011 marked the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, an event that changed America and began the war on terrorism. The call to duty was answered by many of our young men and women who served in the military and today are veterans seeking jobs, opportunity, and to settle back into the communities they left to protect America. About 1 million veterans will separate from the military by 2015. Veterans, transitioning into the civilian economy, can help build our industry and we in turn can partner with our country’s brave men and women returning from war to offer opportunity. Franchising can be good for veterans and veterans can be good for franchising. These are exciting times for VetFran and there is much to report on our progress.
Since the International Franchise Association launched Operation Enduring Opportunity with First Lady Michelle Obama late last year, IFA’s veteran initiatives have already made great strides. OEO was launched in November and already counts more than 2,100 veterans who have become team members or franchise business owners. Dozens of IFA members have made hiring commitments totaling more than 3,000 jobs and three financial services members have committed to extraordinary measures to help finance veteran franchisees. VetFran membership has hit new highs, growing by more than 15 percent in the past six months.
Since November, the program has been building partnerships, which are an essential part of the association’s efforts. IFA is working with government organizations, including the White House Joining Forces Initiative, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the Secretary of Defense – Reserve Affairs, as well as the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
Veteran’s service organizations that IFA has relationships with include the USO, the VFW, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Wounded Warrior Project, the United States Veterans Association, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Marine Corps Association.
Business groups that the industry is building partnerships with include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes program, the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders, and the Military Spouse Business Association. IFA is also establishing relationships with veteran’s entrepreneurship programs at universities including Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Oklahoma State University’s Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Program.
In addition to the partnerships and working relationships being built, the association is also making headway on the legislative front. Facing partisan gridlock, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) were determined to produce jobs legislation stemming from areas of agreement between the parties. The resulting legislation, the AGREE Act, is built around nine points and IFA is proud that one of those comes from the Help Veteran’s Own Franchises Act. The provision would provide honorably discharged veterans tax credits to offset start-up costs equal to 25 percent of franchise fees, up to $100,000. On Nov. 21, IFA President and CEO Steve Caldeira, CFE, David Nilssen, co-founder and CEO of Guidant Financial Group, Inc. and Greg Tanner, national director for franchising, Aaron’s Sales & Leasing, attended the White House bill signing ceremony for the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. The law creates tax credits of $2,400 to $9,600 for employers who hire out of work veterans. This is a wonderful incentive for employers to hire veterans. Aaron’s has already accrued close to $1 million in veterans hiring tax credits.
VetFran has exhibited in veterans hiring fairs including the Hiring Our Heroes; Military Spouse Career Forum on Jan.13 and the VA for Vets, Veteran Career Fair and Expo on Jan. 18, both in Washington, D.C. In the same time frame, Marine 2nd Lt. Ray Cate traded his camouflage utilities for a suit and tie three days a week to begin volunteering with IFA. Cate has been a great asset, focusing on outreach to member companies and tracking hiring for Operation Enduring Opportunity and VetFran. Ray, we thank you for your service.
In late January, 14 franchise industry leaders gathered in Atlanta to meet with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and White House Joining Forces Initiative Executive Director Capt. Brad Cooper (USN) to discuss the problem of veteran unemployment. Franchise leaders pledged their support in confronting the problem and Secretary Shinseki expressed gratitude for the industry’s efforts.
VetFran and Operation Enduring Opportunity were at the center of IFA’s Convention. On Feb. 10, over 100 members of the franchise community participated in the inaugural “Franchising Gives Back” at an Orlando nursing facility that is home to many veterans. The participants turned a dilapidated area into “Veteran’s Park” which residents will enjoy long into the future and visited with the residents.
On Feb. 11, IFA had its most attended VetFran Committee meeting in history, which included representatives of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, the Florida Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve and the United States Veterans Association. Mark Mohler, CEO of Boost A Hero, showed a video and explained their crowdfunding initiative for veterans in franchising. The committee is focused on growing VetFran through fundraising, including our supplier partners in VetFran, and creating a strong metric system to measure our progress.
On Feb. 12, IFA launched the first VetFran Pavilion offering tools and solutions to match veterans with franchise opportunities. Highlights of the pavilion included the debut of the Department of Defense’s new Hero 2 Hired truck, the first public appearance of the Boost A Hero crowdfunding initiative, resources such as GI Jobs and Value of a Veteran. The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs and the Florida ESGR shared their resources and star VetFran companies, Guidant Financial, Cici’s Pizza, and the UPS Store shared their programs for veterans. That evening, the VetFran and Lenders reception brought together franchisors and the lenders essential to creating new veteran franchisees. The reception featured an appearance by The United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps Color Guard.
The General Session of the convention included an address by U.S. Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John Gingrich. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, Reserve Affairs, presented IFA, Valpak and Snap-on Tools with awards for “outstanding service and continuing support for the national defense”.
For the “Panel of the Pros” following the Chief of Staff’s remarks, I was joined by Greg Tanner, national director for franchising, Aaron’s Sales & Leasing;, Stuart Mathis, president of The UPS Store, as well as SSG Shilo Harris (U.S. Army, Ret.), a wounded warrior. The panel was moderated by incoming IFA First Vice Chairman Steve Romaniello, CFE, FOCUS Brands chairman and managing director of Roark Capital Group. At the end of the panel, Harris gave an inspiring speech, sharing his emotional story during the closing session of the convention and bringing home why VetFran is so important to our veterans.
As a proud veteran, I can attest that members of our armed forces are disciplined, hard-working and passionate people who have an ingrained trait to work well within systems. They’re accustomed to following standard operating procedures, have strong teamwork skills and are dedicated to mission success. That’s why I believe former members of the military make excellent candidates for franchise ownership, as well as outstanding and trusted employees for our companies. As you well know, franchising is all about the systems and we need to constantly cultivate leaders within our brands. Veterans understand leadership and can be part of the solution.
Challenges facing veterans were featured prominently during the Small Business Lending Summit that IFA organized and conducted April 17 in Washington, D.C. The summit brought together policy leaders, bankers and business to discuss lending, job creation and the economic recovery. VetFran exhibited at the 11th annual Multi-Unit Franchising Conference that was conducted in Las Vegas this past April. There will be two panels focusing on veterans, both organized by IFA during the International Franchise Expo in New York, June 15-17 and VetFran will participate in the National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo in Detroit, June 26-29. The IFA’s Strategic Initiatives & Industry Relations Department has begun a series of webinars focusing on tools and solutions for hiring and recruiting veterans as owners in the franchise industry. There are now 456 companies participating in VetFran and the association is going to make a push to sign up IFA’s Supplier Forum members for the first time.
IFA, led by President and CEO Steve Caldeira, CFE, is showing through real world solutions that franchising is an outstanding opportunity for veterans. If you’re not currently a member of VetFran now is the time to sign up by going to VetFran.com and filling out the form. You’ll then be provided the information you’ll need to participate. Our veterans have earned the opportunity.
Mary Kennedy Thompson, CFE, is president of Mr. Rooter, a company of The Dwyer Group. She also serves as chairwoman of the IFA VetFran Committee. She can be reached at Mary.Thompson@dwyergroup.com.