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June 28, 2013

Upstate New York Economic Development, Veterans and a Nationally Replicable Model

Upstate New York Economic Development, Veterans and a Nationally Replicable Model

Written by: James Schmeling, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Institute for Veterans and Military Families

About three years ago I began to think about how veterans could be the backbone of significant economic development activities here in Upstate New York, and what it would take to make that happen. I knew that we would have many veterans returning from wars abroad, that they had skills and experience that their civilian counterparts did not and that they had eligibility for education and training benefits that would further prepare them for the workforce. At the same time, I knew that many regions of the country, including Upstate New York, needed a highly talented workforce with skills to enable the state and its businesses to compete in the global economy. Many organizations focus on economic competitiveness here in Upstate; what I knew, that they didn’t yet, was that veterans can help them reach their goals. Certainly the beginnings of the “hire a veteran” movement were stirring. But the knowledge of how and why veterans would contribute to business goals, to community leadership and to economic competitiveness were not yet a focus of our communities or our business leaders.

That’s now changed, both nationally and regionally. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) has worked with many public-private partnerships nationally, working across sectors and industries, engaging government and non-government stakeholders, and advancing their and our mutual goals. We’ve published a Guide to Leading Practices in the employment of veterans, and a well-received Business Case for Hiring Veterans building on 40 years of academic research on veteran skills and traits. We created a website with partners, Veteran Employment Leading Practices: Tools for Engaging Talent, which provides information to business and industry on how to create veteran-focused initiatives. We teach business leaders, including human resources professionals, executives, and managers, how to leverage veteran talent.

Nationally there are also significant efforts to identify, recruit, hire, retain and advance talented veterans from all services, and at all levels of experience. Coalitions like the 100,000 Jobs Mission, Joining Forces, the US Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring our Heroes, Get Skills to Work, and others have contributed significantly to the dialogue, and more importantly have created paths forward for veterans and families. Using peer-to-peer business communication and knowledge exchange in communities of practice, partnering with community colleges, universities, community organizations and veteran serving organizations, we have partnered to garner and put to use knowledge about how and why veterans are strong assets for business and industry. CEOs challenge other CEOs to establish audacious hiring goals. Senior human resources leaders, recruiters, and hiring managers exchange practices on how to establish successful veteran-focused business initiatives. And recruiters at many of these companies first established informal talent exchanges, then evolved to formal talent exchange mechanisms – setting aside competitive business relationships to benefit veterans seeking to apply their talents and skills in the right settings for themselves. Companies sponsor our work to train veterans in skills that will promote their integration into civilian companies, and to train specific skills and obtain industry-standard certifications, as in our Veteran Career Transition Program.

In the private sector we’ve seen commitments from Walmart and the Walmart Foundation to hire veterans, to train and educate veterans, and to engage with the veteran sector.. We know that many veterans will work and pursue education at the same time. We build out the Get Skills to Work partnership in Upstate New York on advanced manufacturing training and education, what happens if we provide employment at Walmart while a student pursues industry-specific training in advanced manufacturilending employment and education in an industry-specific field fits with Walmart’s President and CEO That fits Bill Simon’s vision of a short-term stop while a veteran pursues next steps if Walmart careers aren’t their end goal. Blending this with GE’s focus on training in advanced manufacturing may be an interesting demonstration of possibility. And how do we benefit veterans if, at the same time, IVMF and JP Morgan Chase provide access to distance education in our VCTP program to orient transitioning service members to private sector culture, and train them to translate their skills and experience so that even unfamiliar recruiters and hiring managers will understand the value they bring to the equation? And how may this tie to still other opportunities? Other companies such as  Home Depot, hire many veterans, and they are located in many of the same communities as our community college education partnerships, enabling them to provide full-time, part-time, and seasonal jobs that support veterans while they further their education and training. Members of the 100,000 Jobs Mission seek veteran talent, and they too are located across our region. Some have part-time opportunities that fit with part-time or full-time education. Others will seek to hire the graduates of our vocational accelerator programs or through Get Skills to Work training opportunities. Building on that, organizations like Center State CEO and the Manufacturer’s Association of Central New York (MACNY) represent many of our central New York businesses, and understand both their needs for talent and the talent that veterans represent.

Center State CEO and MACNY, as well as many other stakeholders, also work extensively to promote Central New York economic development and work with Regional Economic Development Councils to advance central New York’s regional economic development goals across several strategic sectors our public/private partnerships and our collaborator’s initiatives are positioned to address. They include clean energy and environmental systems; health, biomedical services, and biosciences; financial services; agribusiness and food processing; advanced manufacturing (including digital electronics, radar and sensor systems, as well as security, information technology, and defense); and tourism. Since the Walmart vocational accelerator grants address all of New York, and Get Skills to Work partnership encompasses most of Upstate, Central and the Southern Tier of New York, there are several other regional plans that also may benefit from these initiatives. Tying them together, and building on each strategy and focus, allows us to bring veterans in where they may be key drivers of the skilled workforce needed to advance the region’s goals and plans.

There are also Federal and state tax credits available to promote hiring of veterans, veterans with disabilities, and veterans who have been unemployed for longer than average periods of employment. These vary by category of veteran and length of unemployment and range from $975 to $9,600 depending on wage, for-profit or non-profit status, and the category of veteran. This is currently set to expire December 31, 2013, but there appears to be some likelihood of extending the tax credit again.

In addition to the opportunities in Upstate New York for traditional employment and training targeted to veterans in specific industry sectors, the IVMF is also well known for our entrepreneurship training and education programs. Syracuse University, the Whitman School of Management and the IVMF offer the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) on our campus, and the program has recently been implemented at Cornell University as well. The IVMF also runs the EBV-Families program, for family members of veterans and care-givers of disabled veterans. While not all of our graduates are New Yorkers, every one of them has been exposed to New York. When adding in participants in our Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) and in our Endure & Grow programs, as well as specialized programs offered to wounded warrior units at Ft. Drum and other regional locations, we have an extensive talent pool who are focused on starting and growing businesses in New York.

These veterans may have the advantage of preferred sourcing in New York (as they do in some other states, particularly as service-disabled veteran owned small businesses, or SDVOSBs) in certain government contracts. Additionally, there are targeted efforts by many major corporations to buy from veteran owned businesses or SDVOSBs. Marianne Strobel, executive director of AT&T Global Supplier Diversity penned an outstanding piece recently on how service-disabled veteran owned businesses may drive innovation, while also noting the areas that AT&T will source from in the near future, specifically noting that “2013 is our supplier organization’s ‘Year of the DVBE’” – so paying attention to needs like these, combining with training and education in entrepreneurship, advanced manufacturing, and other vocational acceleration may very well pay significant benefits.

Recently, Governor Cuomo announced his “Innovation Hot Spots” and his “Tax Free New York” initiatives (supported by GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, among others), which focus on business startups in high-tech public-private partnerships, and those linked to educational institutions and their missions. In other words, New York is focused on creating high-tech, research and development, small business innovation and creating businesses focused on economic competitiveness of the region.

Interestingly, in Central New York we also have an outstanding organization, formed by twenty-six institutions of higher education located in the 13-county region of Syracuse’s Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) called the Central New York Veterans’ Higher Education Regional Consortium (CNY V-HERC). Led by educators and administrators in an executive committee at Syracuse University, Onondaga Community College, Cayuga Community College, and others with which we partner, each participating college or university* has its own veteran-focused efforts, including specific education programs, chapters of Student Veterans of America, or support mechanisms for student veterans, including admissions, class scheduling, financial aid and others. They are also important as they share lessons learned with each other, make connections and referrals as needed and create partnerships and collaborations to further their institutions ability to attract and serve veterans.

Our initiatives in Upstate New York represent our attempt to cross-walk many of the things that we’ve learned and done, build on partnerships and leverage the intellectual, programmatic and human capital resources of higher education in support of the post-service life course of the nation’s veterans and military families. While it’s convenient that we’re geographically located in Upstate New York, the reason for the focus here first is the alignment of opportunities, demonstration projects, number of returned veterans and economic need coupled with our efforts to advance veteran training, education, and career employment. We plan to document our lessons learned so they may be applied wherever needed, to take into account local conditions and opportunities.

All the pieces have come together in a perfect storm, and the IVMF has put what we believe to be an unsinkable ship right in the middle, anchored with our work from many communities and organizations. Now our opportunity is to align the pieces, collaborate with all the partners, to reach the outcomes we need and want in Upstate, not just for Upstate, but as a model for other parts of the country. So, that’s the logic, the reasoning, and the “how-to,” if you will.

Veterans who have defended our country are returning home to their communities. They have strong skills, management and leadership experience, and are largely an untapped and underutilized workforce during the first ten years of their lives post-service. They face some barriers explaining to business and industry how their experience fits, and business and industry face some barriers understanding the value they bring and how to place them in their organizations compared to their non-veteran peers. Additionally, some of the education, training and experience they’ve gained in the military is not certified or licensed in the same ways as that of their civilian peers – but this is changing rapidly now that this problem and effective solutions have been identified in most states for many careers, identifying that the training is no less valuable, only differently understood. Continued engagement with government, business and industry, communities, economic development efforts, veteran serving organizations, and others will build and enhance paths to civilian employment, education, training, and communities that will bring great value to veterans and to our nation. Veterans will take their place as employees, leaders, business owners, and more. If you get engaged with veterans and their families early, you will improve your bottom-line, your efficiency, and your efficacy, while they earn their next place in society. And if you give them that chance early, it’s likely they’ll enable you to reach your goals that much sooner, remaining with you and your communities for the long term. Get engaged with IVMF, and with our partners, and you’ll accelerate your opportunities to tap into this pool of talent and build your economic competitiveness, as well as that of our region, state, and nation.

*Participating institutions include: Ashford University, Broome Community College, Bryant and Stratton College, Cazenovia College, Cayuga Community College, Columbia College, Cornell University, Empire State College, Excelsior College, Ithaca College, Jefferson Community College, Le Moyne College, Morrisville State College, Onondaga Community College, State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton, SUNY Canton, SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Oswego, Syracuse University, Thomas Edison State College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Utica College, Utica School of Commerce and Wells College.

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