By : ROBERT J. BLANEY Arizona District Director
PHOENIX – Hard working, team building, disciplined, dedicated, goal oriented and driven to lead are all characteristics we have come to know from veterans of our military services. These are also in the nature and character of successful entrepreneurs and why so many veterans make excellent small business owners.
This Nov. 4-8, we celebrate National Veterans Small Business Week. It’s a time to recognize the contributions of veteran, service member and military spouse small business owners to our nation’s economy.
Veterans like Don and Sheila Richardson, owners of Aspen Communications, an engineering firm with offices in Flagstaff and Prescott, who have successfully drawn on their military experience to create a thriving business. Aspen is a Service Disabled Veteran Owned business with a federal 8(a) certification and is located in a HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone).
The Service Disabled and 8(a) designations offer disadvantaged small businesses a leg up in competing for federal contracting opportunities. Presence in a HUBZone also offers a special standing; these zones are targeted for federal contracts designed to spur business and job growth.
Don, a Navy veteran, and Sheila, a Marine Corps veteran, started their business with two employees and revenues of $30,000 in 1999. Today they employ 20 and have revenues exceeding $2 million. The company focuses on structured cabling and fiber optics, computer networking, network security, surveillance, video conferencing, and telephony with a special emphasis on systems integration.
In keeping with the distinctive training of military experience, the two have sought many sources for guidance along the way, including the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) at both Coconino Community College and Yavapai Community College and SCORE, which have helped them deal with challenges unique to business and federal contracting. SBDCs and SCORE are partially funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and offer free one-on-one counseling on all aspects of business.
In pursuit of excellence, the company seeks the best qualified university and technical school graduates. Finding such individuals has proven a challenge, so the Richardsons’ solution has been among the very rarest and unique in the business world, an in-house apprenticeship program.
For the past 15 years Aspen has offered employees the opportunity to apprentice with journeyman engineers in a four-year program that allows them closely guided growth and experience to climb the ladder of specialization and expertise, moving from apprentices to certified journeyman engineers. The program is certified by the State of Arizona and the U.S. Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs and assures graduates achieve a certification that is recognized across the country. Through this program, the Richardsons are creating opportunity in northern Arizona communities.