Getting down to business after war


More and more Alexandria veterans are stowing their war medals and becoming entrepreneurs thanks to the Patriots Express Loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration.
Chris Decker, a former Navy Civil Engineer Corps officer and founder of an international business called Planate Management Group, considers the loan critical in supporting his work.
Without the loan program and a willing bank, Planate could not have grown last year when we needed cash to support increasing operations, Decker said in an email. The financial crisis has been devastating for small businesses seeking financing even as we are the largest employer in the economy. 
He hired eight new full- and part-time employees with the $350,000 loan.
Starting in the early 2000s the SBA began seeing an increased need among military families, said Bob Carpenter, a lender relations specialist for SBA. 
Veterans began returning from Iraq and military reservists were being called for duty. Their spouses needed help supporting their families, Carpenter said.
In response, the SBA piloted the Patriots Express Loan now offered by banks around the nation to support veterans and their families. The SBA reaches out to veterans through military transitioning programs, Carpenter said.
We speak to a lot of the transitioning groups at Fort Myer and Fort Belvoir, he said. Anytime theres transition training we provide workshops and seminars for people interested in doing business.
Earl Reed, a retired Air Force fighter pilot, used the loan to open Doctors Express, an urgent care facility, in April. He recalled attending a seminar and found it helpful for someone who spent more than 20 years in the military. 
Youre a little bit sheltered from the business world Its intended to speed the process up and make it a little simpler for veterans to start a business, said Reed, who spent three years gathering resources to start his franchise. 
Decker, owner of a business that works overseas, says the business terrain isnt entirely different from service in the field.
I think veteran businesses have advantages though, he said. Its my view that a veteran has presumably been through a lot of adversity in our service, which has enabled us to weather the ups and downs so common to small business owners. 
SBA guarantees between 75 and 85 percent of a loan if a person defaults, depending on the amount borrowed, Carpenter said. The SBA uses fees collected from borrowers who accept the guarantee to pay off the lender. 
[The program] makes banks more inclined to lend, Reed said. He has a modest interest rate on the $450,000 loan.
All veterans, active service members eligible for Transition Assistance Program, reservists, National Guard members and their spouses or windows are eligible for the loan. But starting a business is not for everyone in the military, according to Reed.
I was a pre-med major in college but then went off to fly airplanes, he said, offering an explanation for how a fighter pilot ended up in medicine. In the end I got the best of both worlds. Its come full circle.