Alborn: ‘Warfront to Storefront’ Initiative Could Fill Empty Retail Space with Able Vets
– September 29, 2013 8:00 am
Today, service in the Military requires sacrifice beyond what many Americans may imagine. The price the young men and women pay for the privilege of protecting the rest of us includes unimaginable sacrifices, significant hardships, extended absences from families and friends, and often dismemberment and the constant risk of death.
Veterans are coming back to a depressed economy, a shrinking government, high unemployment (particularly high for veterans), and competition with those who did not serve for jobs.
The Federal Government is in no position to help.
I suggest that it is time for a little out of the box thinking to make accommodations for these young men and women returning home.
Small businesses are the engine of our economy. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce/Small Business Administration, small businesses employee about half of all private sector employees and pay nearly 45 percent of total US private payrolls.
Changes in American shopping habits and retail investments have created a plethora of empty storefronts across America. All one has to do to confirm this is wander around any of those strip malls created in the last Century and then go to one of the new Town Centers that have pretty much destroyed traditional down towns and strip mall retail. These empty storefronts are a problem for local communities, property owners, and Government.
Perhaps we may turn this “problem” into an “opportunity”.
Warfronts to Storefronts suggests that we “break a few rules” to help returning veterans with an entrepreneurial spirit to get beyond finding a job and start creating them.
It focuses on helping them start businesses that will create jobs for others. It suggests that we develop a strategy for moving troops returning from the battlefield into those Empty storefronts.
Let’s “connect the dots” on how we might accomplish moving Veterans from warfronts to storefronts.
Problem: Regulation continues to make opening a new business difficult. Government continues to add new hurdles at all levels to “protect the American public”, enforce zoning rules, and nickel and dime businesses to generate revenue.
These regulations add months, sometimes years, to the process of actually starting a small business and sometimes actually preclude business opportunities. Regulations regarding home based offices and businesses often stop entrepreneurial initiatives “in their tracks”.
Strategy: Evaluate all regulations in the value chain for all aspects of opening and operating a small business and make explicit exceptions for returning Veterans. Particularly examine regulations that make opening a home-based business difficult. It should be easy for someone who has returned from a combat zone to open a business in America. “Breaking a few rules” is a small sacrifice to help them get started.
Problem: Rents may be unrealistically high as property owners “do the math” regarding reducing rents and tax breaks.
Strategy: Involve property owners in the warfront to storefront project. Work with them to reduce rents in vacant storefronts for returning Veterans to make opening a business easier. Increasing traffic to a strip mall increases the value of that property, and increases rent potential for other vacant storefronts.
Problem: Taxes, particularly business taxes on gross receipts regardless of profit or loss, make that critical first five years of any small business particularly challenging.
Strategy: Create tax based business incentives for veteran owned new businesses. Offer local business and real estate tax relief for the first three years. Implement State and Federal tax credits for the first five years. These are not “tax breaks”. They are an investment in veterans, jobs, and America’s economy.
Problem: Veterans first instinct is not necessarily to start a business. Many don’t recognize the applicability of the skills they developed to survive in the battlefield equip them to survive in the business field. Vets often don’t “connect the dots” between their military training and the need for those skills in the private sector.
Strategy: Create and publicize a Warfronts to Storefronts program to introduce the vision of entrepreneurship to returning Veterans. “Connecting the dots” between military skills and civilian business opportunities would reframe how vets view their prospects in the private sector. Partnerships with local Veterans Groups and the Chamber of Commerce might provide a vehicle for delivery of this program.
Establish a mentorship program, perhaps principally staffed by successful veteran entrepreneurs, to work with returning Veterans.
Vets have what it takes to start a business. Actually, they have more than it takes. They may not recognize that the skills that kept a platoon fed, supplied, and alive translate into the skills needed to start a business. They took risks every day that makes new business risk pale by comparison.
Veterans are used to leading. This leadership will result in jobs, increase tax revenue, create wealth, protect property values, and contribute to restructuring our economy to perhaps not be quite so dependent on the Federal Government.
This is just an idea. I suggest that perhaps local Governments consider a tightly scoped Warfront to Storefront pilot project be created to evaluate the viability of implementing some of these suggestions to see how they work out.
Our legislatures in Richmond could lend a hand by looking for Commonwealth incentives for such a program.
Every idea is incomplete and fraught with unintended consequences. A pilot project would allow Warfront to Storefront to be evaluated, refined, expanded, and perhaps scale to a National Program.
A community focused on Economic Development that includes a Community Development component would be an ideal place for such a pilot. Prince William County, Virginia would be an ideal location. It certainly has plenty of empty storefronts, and more than its share of veterans.
Every big business started out as a small business and an idea. Let’s plant the seeds for the next generation of big businesses. Let’s leverage the talent and confidence of returning Veterans by helping those with the entrepreneurial spirit create their own future.
It’s all in how you approach a problem. This is a (to borrow from the military mindset) “can do” idea.