Conference brings insight, motivates veterans
Marcie C. Wright
Local veterans, business owners and company representatives enjoyed lunch, networking and insightful conversation at the fifth annual Veterans Business Conference held at the El Paso Community College Administrative Ser-vices Center Aug. 11.
The conference brought together small business owners and veterans who wish to become entrepreneurs for a conference where resources were in abundance. The mission is to help veterans get their business off the ground. It also demonstrated the potential for creating a network of veteran businesses promoting one another’s success, and in turn, will help other veterans gain employment after departing from the military.
Joseph R. Conway, program manager of the Contract Opportunities Center organized and planned the event. He is also a 20-year veteran of the Army. He said one of his goals was to bring together the communities of southern New Mexico and the greater El Paso area, to promote thinking as a region, instead of competing with each other. Another goal, and the main purpose of the event, was to cut out the middleman, and assemble several agencies to help the small business owner’s success story in one place, with the entrepreneur.
“Most people when trying to market, they have to go to the agencies,” said Conway. “Here, they have all the agencies under one roof. They can go from table to table instead of city to city.”
Reggie Mainor, a recently retired Army veteran, said he gained insight from the conference and confidence in pursuing his dream of owning a clothing store. He said he got confirmation in resources here and a motivational push in the right direction.
“The information I received here is very enlightening and much needed,” said Mainor. “It is very positive and very informative. … I gained the ability and knowledge to know the step-by-step process to get on a successful path.”
Sixty-eight agencies were present with booths set up to support the roughly 250 veterans in attendance. Seminars were held on topics such as: the Veteran Entrepreneurship Pro-gram at Oklahoma University, business development; alternative bonding, lending services, with a host of financers on a panel for questions and answers; opportunities forecasts; and workshops on How to do business with the VA and Perception.
Featured speakers for the evening were Congressman Silvestre Reyes, of the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 16th District of Texas, and Congressman Bob Filner of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 51st district of California. The 51st district is known for its diversity and Filner for his no-nonsense approach to supporting the veteran.
Some of Filner’s accomplishments include writing “Montgomery G.I. Bill for the 21st Century” which enhanced the benefits for guardsmen and reservists, “because they’re doing half of the fighting;” a bill to favor veteran trucking contractors; and better healthcare for veterans.
During Filner’s speech, small business owners were encouraged to hire other veterans, noting this is one way to remove the stigma that war veterans have psychological defects that hinder their work performance.
“We have to propagate the knowledge of combat stress injuries to let employers know it is okay to hire these vets,” he said.
Another attribute of the conference was the benefit of face-to-face communication and the networking exposure one was able to experience there.
Mainor said he had an exciting time at the conference and he is glad to have had the opportunity to attend. He said he gathered comparable amounts of information from networking as he did from the seminars.
“Here is where you start your relationships, said Con-way. “Here, at this conference.”