At Alabama conference, veterans get tools to succeed in business
Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — When Arnold McGehee left the Air Force and started his own business, he fell back on the lessons he learned from his mother and father, who were also in the Air Force.
“My parents always taught me that education is the key,” said McGehee of Hope Hull-based Gerri Reversal Contractors Inc. “So I figured out what I wanted to do, strategized, worked towards that, and then eventually you achieve what you want.”
State officials and business representatives tried to make sure veterans had the tools they need to achieve those business goals Thursday at a conference sponsored by Alabama State University and Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama.
Speakers from the banking industry, the insurance industry, city and state government, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and others shared tips on how to get resources and navigate through the system.
“They’re here because they want to show that they’re an advocate not only for veteran-owned small businesses, but for small businesses as a whole,” said Thomas Taylor of ASU’s Small Business Development Center. “The key thing is to stimulate the economy. That’s the bottom line. Each of these entities here today plays a very important role (in that).
“We extended an invitation for veterans throughout the state of Alabama. Participation is about at where we hoped it to be, however with the storm we’ve had several people who were not able to make it.”
Taylor said the event marked the first partnership between ASU’s school of business and HMMA, but it’s one that the school hopes to continue in the future.
At the conference, other partnerships were forming — something organizers said was a key to success for any entrepreneur.
McGehee said he was fortunate that he met few roadblocks on his path to success as a government and civilian contractor, but that the hardest step was finding a way to get his foot in the door.
“Once you’re in the system and you’re a contractor, they’re very accepting of you,” he said. “There’s been a little resistance with some businesses because you still face the ‘good ol’ boy’ network. And I don’t care what color or whatever, it’s still a ‘good ol’ boy’ network.
“Sometimes you can get around it, and sometimes you have to put some pressure on them — especially if they’re a program that receives federal dollars.”
While many veterans enter a line of civilian work that matches their military job, they also face a unique challenge in adapting to the business world outside the military. But McGehee said they’re also uniquely prepared for immediate success on the job because of their military experience.
“The veterans are better prepared mentally and structurally, and he or she is ready to provide a better work performance for you,” he said. “We already know how to take instructions or give instructions. You don’t have to worry about too much training because that’s what we did.”
Businesses have become more aware of those assets in recent years, McGehee said, and federal incentives that reward businesses for hiring veterans have helped.
“I think it’s not only more acceptable, companies are looking for us, and we have a lot to contribute,” he said.