OPINION: By Al Arguello, Bank of America Market President, Inland Empire
Each year, more than 200,000 U.S. military veterans return to civilian life, including 10 percent who have a desire to own a business, creating a pipeline of new entrepreneurs. Veterans, like the 190,000 who live in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, are disciplined, well-trained leaders, and, with access to capital and business training, their success rates as small business owners are high.
It’s no surprise then that there are more than 2.5 million businesses in the United States – about 10 percent of all small business owners – that is veteran-owned, generating more than $1 trillion in sales annually.
Here in California, 250,000 veteran-owned small businesses generate approximately $135 billion in sales and produce over $217 million in annual payroll for their employees, according to a U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners. These significant impacts underscore how important veteran-owned businesses are to the Inland Empire, which has attracted one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the state.
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 and looked to grow their business, citing access to capital as a top challenge, according to an Institute for Veterans and Military Families study.
I am proud that Bank of America has long provided access to capital for the men and women who served our great nation to make the transition into entrepreneurism. As the country’s #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.
We do this by working with select Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) to provide not just microloans, but as much as two months of technical support training to help them stay on track in those crucial early years of starting and sustaining a business.
So far, within one year of the VELP program, more than half of that capital – $14 million – has already been deployed to more than 170 veteran small business owners across the U.S.
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% 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.