For job-seeking vets, location matters

By PAUL DAVIDSON | USA Today | Published: November 11, 2011

Many recent military veterans are struggling to find jobs in a tough economy, but some parts of the country may be better job-hunting grounds for former soldiers seeking civilian careers, according to a new study.

Oklahoma City is the best place for military retirees to find work, according to a ranking of 379 metro areas by Military.com and USAA, a financial service provider to military personnel.

Norfolk, Va., is ranked second, followed by Richmond, Va.; Austin and San Antonio; Madison, Wis.; Philadelphia; Raleigh, N.C.; Omaha; and Manchester, N.H.

The study is based on criteria such as the prevalence of jobs that draw on military skills, veteran-owned businesses and federal government jobs, the extent to which military pensions are taxed by state governments and the area's unemployment rate. The firm that did the study, Sperling's Best Places, did not quantify job openings specifically for veterans or veterans hired in those areas.

Many highly ranked cities boast a relative abundance of military bases, defense contractors and engineering firms.

"What we hope to do takes the guesswork out of the job search for military retirees," says June Walbert, a certified financial planner for USAA and lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.

The study could substantially aid a group of job seekers who are far more mobile than most Americans. Sixty-eight percent of veterans said they would relocate for a job, vs. 43% of U.S. job hunters overall, according to a survey of Military.com subscribers and others released this week by Monster.com.

As the Iraq War winds down by year's end, tens of thousands of servicemembers are expected to return home, and many will seek second careers amid a sluggish economy and 9% unemployment.

Although the study is primarily geared to military retirees with at least 20 years of service who are eligible for full benefits, it also can serve as a guide to younger veterans, Walbert says.

The jobless rate for 18- to 24-year-old veterans is about 30%, compared with 15% for non-veterans in that age group. Many younger veterans lack a college degree or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other combat-related ailments.

Oklahoma City is home to several aircraft repair and overhaul bases, such as Tinker Air Force Base.

Those installations, along with related defense contractors and engineering firms, seek veterans in part for their technical and military experience, says David Burnett, head of economic development for the Midwest City Chamber of Commerce.

Many of those employers, along with area banks, technology firms and restaurants, also target veterans for their "soft skills."

"They have the ability to show up to work on time, the discipline to do the work, learn new skills and follow instructions," Burnett says.

Bill Redenius, 44, a former Marine logistics officer who retired five years ago, moved to the Oklahoma City area to open a Chick-fil-A fast-food franchise in part because he graduated from Oklahoma University.

"For servicemembers," he adds, "it's overwhelming the way you get treated" by local residents.

He has hired several veterans. "They don't have to be handheld," he says.

"Every (veteran) who ever applied to me, I hired."


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