By Sizhong Chen
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in The Sun Chronicle.
ATTLEBORO — After serving as an Army officer in Vietnam, Leland Goldberg came back to the United States in 1968 and found it hard to find a job. Holding a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University, he sent out resumes and letters to companies in Boston but rarely heard back.
One day, someone named John Quincy Adams, a senior vice president of the then-John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., offered Goldberg a job.
“That changed my life,” he said.
But he did not have a clue why it happened.
It was only about six years ago, that he found out: He was a veteran.
Goldberg decided to pay it forward. He founded VETRN, a Streetwise “MBA” program that offers free training for veterans who own businesses that have operated for at least a year.
It provides courses on financial targeting, analysis and human resources. Students need to come up with a three-year growth plan as a final presentation.
Veterans have a higher tendency to self-employ than the general population, according to a Small Business Administration report.
The 2017 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showed the self-employment rate for veterans was 5.9 percent, slightly higher than the 5.7 percent rate for non-veterans.
Julie Hall, a former Attleboro at-large city councilor and a veteran, said military people are used to camaraderie and taking responsibility over thousands of people, which elevate their expectations during job seeking.
“Often time, we are over-qualified,” said Hall, a former hospital chief executive in the military. “It’s very difficult for a company to offer a military member an administrative position that’s commensurate to their knowledge and expertise.”
On the other hand, the state provides access and opportunities for veteran business owners.
In 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker restructured the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services, appointing 12 people to improve services including employment and job training. Veteran-owned businesses, along with woman-owned and minority-owned ones, are among groups that can contract with the government if certified.
The most recent data released by the U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were over 58,000 veteran-owned businesses in Massachusetts in 2012.
Most of the veteran-owned firms were small, more than half of them with one to four employees.
According to the state’s Supplier Diversity Office, in fiscal year 2017, Massachusetts spent over $14.8 million on funding the veterans’ businesses.
The number has increased compared to the $33,000 spent three years ago but is still below the 3 percent benchmark set by the office, which would be $30 million per year.
“We now have over 150 certified veterans,” said William McAvoy, who represented the office on a recent veterans small business forum held by Massachusetts Gaming Commission. “We are doing all we can to grow that.”
While veteran business owners may need less help compared to those who face financial or mental health issues, the council acts as a resource center and refers them to other networks such as VETRN.
Jeffery Harris, the owner and founder of LBP Solutions, LLC, graduated from VETRN last year.
The company, based in Foxboro, specializes in hazardous building material surveys including lead paint assessments and other environmental concerns.
Twenty-eight years ago, Harris was discharged as a corporal from the U.S. Marine Corps.
He first entered the television and music production industry.
In 2001, he saw a need in the market when he moved into a new house in Attleboro and failed in his efforts to book a lead paint inspector.
So he went back to school, attended environmental training classes, and apprenticed for a year to gain the licenses.
The business grew, but Harris found his knowledge in financial and operational skills was limited.
Last year, he applied to join VETRN and was accepted.
He said the experience was helpful in learning the essential skills to scale his business properly.
“If I had legal questions, they have attorneys who are willing to assist me for free,” Harris said.
Hall, who knew Harris years ago, helping him to settle the office, introduced him to Shane Matlock, a fellow veteran who owns a pop-up waffle shop, The Burgundian, with four employees.
He hopes to double the number and buy a food truck as well as a double-decker bus next year. Harris encouraged him to apply for VETRN.
“There actually are quite a few programs for both general and veteran business startups,” Matlock said.
“But there aren’t many programs out there that help veteran businesses once they have established and had some money coming in to grow and scale.”
Harris has now expanded the company from three to 10 employees, about half of whom are veterans.
“What sets me (apart) is that being a veteran myself, I have an understanding of my veteran employees,” Harris said.
He finds that the veterans, who have traveled around the world with missions, tend to have a more solid work ethic.
“I think I have an advantage in mentoring my employees, having served myself,” he said.