There was a time when post-traumatic stress disorder limited Tracy Hoover’s speech and mobility.
But the retired U.S. Air Force veteran slowly turned his life around and is now co-owner of an Edgewater auto repair shop. His work at Premier Collision & Customs is a stress reliever, but he realizes veterans need a variety of services ranging from healthcare to job training.
So he is in the early stages of creating a veterans transition center to link them to those services. Many veterans join the armed services as young as 18 and return home with limited training, he said.
“They come back and they don’t know what to do — they never had to interview for a job and in some cases they don’t have the skills to transfer back to their civilian lives,” said Hoover, who retired from the U.S. Air Force and helped launch Premiere Collision & Customs. “There has got to be somebody who grabs the hand of the veteran and walks them through the process.”
There are also veterans who want to launch their own businesses, and that is a network the Annapolis Economic Development Corp. hopes to attract in its newest effort. The organization is partnering with Consulting, Training, and Development Services and the state Technology Development Corp. to provide a 10-week program to veterans who want to be entrepreneurs.
Called Project Opportunity, the evening classes will be held at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts through November. Eighty veterans wanted to sign up for the program, so a second session will be offered in the spring.
“We knew there were a number of veterans in the Annapolis area, we just weren’t sure how many wanted to be entrepreneurs,” AEDC CEO Lara Fritts said. “The great thing about veterans is that we know that they’re hard working and they have an amazing work ethic.”
Statistics show the unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans declined to just under 10 percent last year. Those figures vary based on where they were stationed and the type of service.
Recent veterans who were in the National Guard or Reserves had an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent in August 2012, compared to 13.7 percent for those who were not members.
Those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both had an unemployment rate just under 11 percent, while those who served elsewhere had a rate of 11.3 percent in August 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With Project Opportunity, participants will have weekly sessions that teach them about developing marketing plans, funding, networking and social media. The plan is for them to start out with their own business plans and fine tune them over the course of the program.
By their completion in November, they will be able to move onto the next stages of launching their venture.
“Hopefully this will translate into new business for the good ole City of Annapolis. As pleased as we are to do this, there is a selfish motive,” said Bob Sammis, Jr., the AEDC business recruitment, retention and expansion coordinator. “At the end of the day you need the same stuff — you need the business plan, funding, some sense of motivation — and all of those things have to fall into place regardless of if you’re a vet or not. But there may be some subtle differences (from other entrepreneurs).”
For more information about the AEDC’s Project Opportunity program, call 410-280-2712