Army Sgt. Tim Smith went on routine security missions, looking for weapons and counter-insurgents near Fallujah, Iraq, during the region’s worst spasm of violence. He returned to America in 2007 with post-traumatic stress and no job. After earning a master’s degree in social work, he decided to open a business that would hire veterans for jobs that would maximize a soldier's obsessive attention to detail and willingness to follow orders to the letter.
Cleaning, he decided, fit the bill.
Patriot Commercial Cleaning in St. Louis, Mo., opened last year with $5,400 from Smith’s savings and a $3,900 gift from Work Vessels for Veterans, a nonprofit that paid for the licenses, insurance and equipment for the company’s first big contract.
In the first year, Patriot Commercial made $23,500 through six contracts. This year Smith has 12 contracts that will pull in $182,000.
He was able to grow the business, he says, after landing a big contract to clean an academy. The nonprofit loaned Smith’s business an additional $10,000 for the payroll, allowing Smith to hire on five veterans.
“That money really helped us get established,’’ Smith says. “ It’s difficult to get a loan from a bank for any business that is under 2 years old.’’
Expanding the Scope
Smith is one of 600 veterans that the nonprofit has helped since John Niekrash, a Connecticut commercial lobsterman, and a few other businessmen decided to guide veterans back into the civilian world. The nonprofit gave away its first work “vessel,” a boat, in 2008, to help a vet start fishing for a living.
Soon, Dave Mason, the songwriter and a founder of the band Traffic, contacted Niekrash and asked, "Why does a vessel have to be a boat?"
“It hit such a chord that we realized quickly, wow, there’s no need for a vessel to be a boat,’’ Niekrash says. “It’s anything to help make that transition.’’
The two friends have donated tools, cars, vans, trucks and lots of laptops, especially for veterans heading to school. The group has even donated land, which now is Veterans Farm in Jacksonville, Fla., run by a veteran who employs combat vets.
Getting Vets Onboard
Niekrash asks that interested vets present a business plan, or, if they’re planning to study, details about their school program. “From tools to cars to vans to trucks, whatever they need to make that transition, we’re there to assist them.’’
Niekrash, who is not a vet, says it’s important for many of these young men and women to start their own jobs, and not just because the double-digit unemployment rate for young people.
"When [they] come back to little towns, they can’t find work, and they’ve lost that sense of team and unity they had when they were fighting together,’’ he says. “ What helps them heal is helping other vets. That’s what drives these guys.’’
Have you supported a veteran-owned business?