Opinion: Veteran small-business owners are critical to region’s economy

Vince Thelander, senior vice president of business banking for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Vince Thelander, senior vice president of business banking for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

More than 200,000 United States military veterans return to civilian life every year, 10 percent of whom have a desire to own a business, creating a pipeline of new entrepreneurs.

Veterans are disciplined, well-trained leaders, and, with access to capital and business training, their success rate as small-business owners is high.

It’s no surprise, then, that there are more than 2.5 million businesses in the U.S. — about 10 percent of all small businesses — that are veteran-owned, generating more than $1 trillion in annual sales.

Here in Arizona, over 48,000 veteran-owned small businesses generate approximately $21 billion in sales, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners. These significant impacts underscore how important veteran-owned businesses are to the region.

However, veterans can struggle to find capital and connections they need to get their businesses going. In fact, more than 75 percent of veterans reported encountering challenges as they started to grow their businesses, citing access to capital as a top challenge, according to a study by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

I am proud that Bank of America has long provided access to capital for the men and women who served our great nation make the transition into entrepreneurism.

As the country’s No. 1 small business lender, Bank of America last year committed to help even more U.S. military veterans kickstart and expand their own businesses by creating a $20 million “Veteran Entrepreneur Lending Program” (VELP) to connect military-veteran business owners with affordable capital. So far, within one year of introducing the VELP program, more than half of that capital — about $14 million — has already been deployed to more than 170 veteran small-business owners.

Having served the U.S. military branches for more than 100 years, Bank of America provides active-duty service members, veterans and their families with specialized products, reduced rates and flexible services that their lives demand — through deployment to transitioning from military service and beyond.

Beginning this month, U.S. veterans are eligible for our Small Business Veterans Discount Initiative, featuring an exclusive 25 percent fee discount for their Bank of America small-business loan or line of credit.

Helping our veterans translate and utilize their tremendous military skills to become successful entrepreneurs driving local economies is an important way Bank of America can give back and show our gratitude to the brave men and women who have served in the military.

Vince Thelander is the senior vice president for business banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and a member of Bank of America’s military employee network.

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