Each year, the U.S. Small Business Administration celebrates National Veterans Small Business Week, Nov. 5 to Nov. 11, in conjunction with Veterans Day.
“It is an opportunity for us to once again reflect upon the sacrifices made by our fellow citizens who have served in our nation’s armed forces,” said Wayne Gardella, district director for the Montana District Office of the Small Business Administration.
“I don’t know exactly how long we have done something for veterans, but I’ve been here 10 years and it has always been there in one form or another,” said Tom White, lender relations specialist for the Montana district office.
White said each year, the SBA highlights its veteran-owned small businesses with a meet-and-greet and learning event.
This year’s meet-and-greet is at Canyon Creek Brewing in Billings Thursday, Nov. 8. Seth Jordan, a veteran and member of Bunker Labs’ board of directors, will be a speaker at the event and will talk about his past and success as a business owner. Dustin Frost, director of veteran business outreach for the SBA, said that so far, around 25 veterans and spouses have RSVP’d. The event is targeted toward veteran entrepreneurs, but is open to everyone.
“We try to do a meet-and-greet type event with training for veterans each year,” White said.
The plan for next year, White said, is to do a meet-and-greet near Helena at Ft. Harrison that will focus on business training. He said they will also talk closely with individuals in the National Guard who might be interested in becoming business owners after their service.
“The SBA was extremely helpful to me,” Rob Mahr, U.S. Army and Air Force veteran, said. “I never would have gotten a loan without the SBA’s help.
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Mahr is the owner of East Helena Pit Stop. His shop offers light vehicle maintenance, oil changes and service work. He said he likes to build trust with his customer base and often responds to help people with broken-down vehicles. The business opened in July 2016.
Mahr is deeply involved in the veteran community. His business does veteran preference hiring and he volunteers with the VA hospital, Montana Vets-Montana Waters, the Mighty Oak Warrior Program and many others.
“We do a lot to help veterans who need help with their vehicles,” Mahr said. “We are deep in the veteran community.”
Mahr is one of a few Veteran business owners in Helena. The exact numbers are difficult to quantify due to the fact that the demographics often go under-reported, according to White. White said the SBA had four or five in the past three years, but that there are probably more than that in the immediate area.
“Often veterans don’t even think to claim that status, they just want to start their business,” Frost said.
Montana has one of the highest percentages of veterans per capita in the country, Gardella said. Over the past three years, the SBA has guaranteed 49 commercial loans in the amount of $21.1 million to veteran-owned small businesses. Gardella wants those numbers to double in the next three years.
Accord to the last survey, Montana has 11,486 veteran owned businesses. Around 10.2 percent of all businesses in Montana are owned by a veteran. This places the state 18th highest in the country.
Veteran-owned businesses in Montana account for more than $3.3 billion in annual sales revenues.