In celebration of Veteran’s Day, Thumbtack would like to applaud the 2.5 million veterans that own their own small business. Today, more than one-in-four veterans in the workforce are running their own business, a rate that is 7.7 percentage points greater than the national average.
We’re also proud to say one in ten of the more than 250,000 small businesses on Thumbtack are owned and operated by veterans. They’re using Thumbtack to find new customers and grow their businesses across all fifty states. Most of these veterans are in the home improvement industry. The top occupation for veterans on Thumbtack is handyman, while other common fields for veterans include landscaping, general contracting, painting, and plumbing. Still, veterans are using Thumbtack in a diverse set of industries ranging far beyond home improvement, such as wellness (including personal trainers), events (photographers), and professional services (computer repair specialists).
What binds this diverse set of small business owners together is that in running their own business, they are in a leadership position, managing projects and client relationships—job elements that veterans are particularly well-prepared for. Almost every veteran we interviewed told us they became an entrepreneur at least in part because their experience in the military helped prepare them for a career in which they are their own boss. Sometimes, this meant they were equipped with the technical skills needed for their second career (such as in some of these home improvement occupations), but a near universal sentiment was their military experience gave them the “soft skills” critical to running a small business.
Edgar Mota, who runs a photo booth rental business in Los Angeles put it this way, “Being a veteran has taught me empathy, leadership but most importantly how to serve others. Those qualities alone have allowed me to surround myself with great people and provide superior customer service.”
The Veteran Network Advantage
In talking to veterans running a successful small business, it became clear that a military background alone isn’t always sufficient to a developing a thriving business. The other thing veterans point to as being a catalyst to their success is being part of a supportive community. While every business’ needs are different, being in a place where veteran-owned businesses are valued by clients, bankers, suppliers, and others can help provide a leg up in the potentially harrowing process of starting and growing a small business. Anthony Toreson who runs an HVAC contracting business in Houston, voiced a common sentiment in saying, “Being a veteran has helped with networking on the business side, such as SBA [Small Business Association] lending with our bank and working with suppliers on pricing.”
Of course, communities don’t just become good places for veteran-owned small businesses by accident: leadership by local governments and elected officials is crucial to ensure that veterans pursuing their own businesses have the resources they need to succeed, and don’t get stymied by local regulations or tax structures.
Local Government Support Is Key
To figure out which communities are succeeding most in enabling veteran-owned small businesses to succeed, we asked nearly 1500 small business owners on Thumbtack to rate their local governments’ support for businesses like theirs. With this data set, we discovered that Austin, Texas was rated higher by veterans than any other city in America, with 41% saying that their local government was “very supportive” and another 24% calling it “somewhat supportive.” Austin received particularly high marks from the veterans completing our survey for having useful government websites and a licensing system that’s easy to comply with, two factors are particularly important to veterans.
Terri Young, a photographer in Austin, put it this way: “Austin is a phenomenal place for a Veteran to start a business. The community is rich with active and retired military personnel, as well as an abundance of supportive, patriotic civilians. With local programs like ‘Boots to Business’ and SCORE, it made the idea of becoming my own boss a much clearer reality.”
With 7.4% of the 1.4 million residents in the Austin metro area having served in the military, it’s no surprise that Terri—and many others like her—found such a supportive environment in Austin. To show that Austin is a top city for veterans, look no further than earnings data from the Census: the median income for veterans in the Austin area is over $45,000 per year, more than $13,000 more than the metro-wide median.
Texas Is Good to Veteran Small Businesses
Based on our survey data, the second-highest rated city by veteran small business owners is Houston, TX. Nearly one third of our veteran respondents in Houston called their local government “very supportive,” while more than half (52%) said it was “somewhat supportive”. Sean Williams, a fence installer, called out the city for fostering a strong network of veterans: “The veteran community here is great. I have many friends who are veterans and own businesses. There are a lot of events and benefits that we participate in and meet a lot of people doing it.” Our survey data makes it clear that this is a common viewpoint: 29% of veterans in the Houston area had participated in a training or networking event and rated in “helpful,” significantly more than elsewhere.
Next on the list is Charlotte, NC, where 13% indicated that the local government is “very supportive” and a whopping 60% called it “somewhat supportive.” Charlotte also earned top marks among veterans for having “business friendly” hiring and labor regulations, thereby making it easy for veteran-owned business to expand their headcounts. As a result, 40% of the veterans that are hiring for their small business in Charlotte said it was “easy” to do so, four percentage points more than the national average. Summing up why Charlotte is a good place for veterans like him to start a small business, Kevin Sturm, who started his lawn care business there 16 years ago, called out the Queen City for being a “very patriotic town” and also a “great area for growth.”
The city with the fourth-best evaluations by veteran small business owners was Fort Worth, TX. Home to at least 10,000 active duty service members at the area’s Naval Air Station and over 350,000 veterans, these vets are taking advantage of the business-friendly environment in Texas to go into business for themselves. Rick Dalton, a photographer in Fort Worth, described the value of this rich veteran network in the area, “With Fort Worth’s strong military presence, there’s a constant flow of active duty and retired veterans in our neighborhoods and businesses; there is a certain brotherhood that exists between us, no matter if we were soldiers, sailors or airmen.”
LA: A Hub for Veteran-Owned Businesses
Rounding out the top five is Los Angeles, CA, which is only an hour and a half north of the Camp Pendleton, the West Coast hub of the US Marine Corps and base for 42,000 active duty personnel. While only 4.2% of the residents in the LA metro area are veterans, that still adds up to more than 425,000, the second-most of any metro in the U.S. (only New York City has more). As in Fort Worth, veterans in Los Angeles were particularly enthusiastic about how networking opportunities for veterans in the area make it easier to work with others from different sectors. Michael Holmes, who runs his own law practice there, had this perspective: “The veteran community is diverse in the Los Angeles area. There are business owners, doctors, lawyers, and many others from all walks of life.”
For policymakers looking to make their own communities more supportive for veteran-owned small businesses, the feedback is clear: invest in creating a network for veterans that are running (or aspire to run) their own small business with plenty of helpful training programs and regulations that don’t deter them from getting their ventures off the ground or growing their enterprises.
Between July 26, 2017 and September 6, 2017, Thumbtack surveyed 13,284 skilled professionals from across the U.S., operating across hundreds of categories, including electricians, music teachers, wedding planners, wellness professionals and more. The survey asked these entrepreneurs about the policies of their states and cities toward small business, as well as the overall level of support in their communities. For this post, we leveraged responses from over 1,300 veteran small business owners who use Thumbtack to grow their business. Additional information is available at https://www.thumbtack.com/survey.