Honor veterans and empower them for entrepreneurship

Veterans Day is a time when we, as a nation, come together to honor all those who have proudly and bravely worn the uniform of the United States. Yet, simply honoring them is not enough. They’ve done their jobs in war zones around the world, yet too often they are unable to find good jobs when they return back home. As beneficiaries of their courage abroad, it is our collective responsibility within the business community to ensure that the American Dream they’ve so honorably protected is accessible to them.

Two years ago, on Veterans Day 2011, the franchising industry, led by the International Franchise Association (IFA) and the over 600 franchise businesses that are part of IFA’s VetFran strategic initiative, Operation Enduring Opportunity, were among the first private sector commitments to the White House Joining Forces initiative. IFA and its membership pledged to hire and recruit 80,000 veterans, wounded warriors and military spouses by the end of 2014, as team members and franchise small business owners. In our view, this was not only the right thing to do, but was, and still is, the smart business approach to pursue.  Veterans are well-equipped to leverage their excellence in operational execution to take our franchises to new heights.

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The results speak for themselves. In the first year alone, nearly 65,000 veterans started careers in franchising. Our pledge to hire a total of 80,000 heroes by the end of 2014 has already been fulfilled – and much more. We are proud that over 150,000 veterans, military spouses and wounded warriors have entered franchising since the beginning of 2011, including 5,192 as small business franchise owners.

If the past two years have shown us anything, it’s that combining the franchising business model with the work ethic and drive of veterans is a potent mix. According to a recent study conducted by PwC for the IFA Educational Foundation, one out of every seven franchise businesses are owned and operated by veterans – “vetrepreneurs.” More than 66,000 veteran-owned franchise businesses in the U.S. directly provide jobs for 815,000 Americans and generate more than $41 billion in GDP.

But our mission is not complete.

The current unemployment rate for young veterans between 20-24 years of age is over 20 percent, and nearly a million more veterans will be returning from Iraq and Afghanistan over the next three to four years.

That’s why we’re taking more steps to provide opportunities for franchise small business ownership.

A Strategic Agreement of Memorandum (SAM) between VetFran and the Small Business Administration (SBA) has been signed to create a structurally unprecedented reach for VetFran to help veterans interested in franchising and small business ownership. In the next year, an estimated 45,000 veterans are expected to opt into the SBA’s Operation Boots to Business for those interested in entrepreneurship and small business. As part of this agreement, VetFran will coordinate franchising content within Operations Boots to Business, equipping interested veterans to pursue fulfilling careers as franchise small business owners. Public-private partnerships, like ours with the SBA, are important to advancing small business opportunities for veterans in franchising.

This Veterans Day, as we honor America’s bravest for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice--including their families – let’s not stop there. The vision of VetFran is that our nation is stronger because of our veterans’ military service, but our economy can benefit as well. Long after they hang up the uniform, veterans are still working hard, growing their businesses and creating jobs. That’s something we can all celebrate, but our work must continue, and it will, because it’s the least we can do as an industry, and as a country, to support these returning patriots.

Caldeira is the president and CEO of the International Franchise Association.