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Veterans Get Business-Ownership Tips at ASU Conference

After serving their country in fatigues, many military veterans still serve, only now they wear business suits.

About 65 small-business owners, the majority of whom were veterans, from the River Region and across the state attended Alabama State University’s annual Veteran-Owned Small Business Conference on Thursday to learn how to become better business owners and improve their services.

Alabama has about 920 small businesses that are owned by veterans, 200 of which operate out of the River Region, according to conference director Thomas Taylor.

The conference connects business owners like Tommy Shepherd, an Army and Alabama Air National Guard veteran, with government and corporate procurement decision-makers.

Shepherd, who served in the information technology field as a staff sergeant in the Army, later served in the same capacity at Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex as a guardsman.

He said the career field is a perfect fit.

“There’s a saying, ‘You get in where you fit in,’ and IT is my fit, so that’s why I love that,” Shepherd said.

His experiences in the military opened the door for Shepherd to start his own business, Shepherd Contracting, out of Montgomery in 2004.

“I contribute that to the experience that I got in the military at Maxwell Air Force Base in their IT department. I worked there for roughly eight years,” Shepherd said.

Right now, Shepherd is working to expand his business within the IT field, installing video surveillance systems and cables as well as setting up computers, modems and switches. He hopes to learn more about the procurement process after attending the conference.

One way is to network, “to identify the major players in the game,” he said. “… I’m finding out now there are more people I need to talk to; make sure I get the right contract.”

Talking with the right people is what the conference was all about, said Taylor, procurement specialist with the Small Business Development Center at ASU and organizer of the event.

“You never know who’s in the house. The person that you’re sitting by may be the very person you’re going to be doing business with,” Taylor said.

Representatives of the state of Alabama, Montgomery Housing Authority, Veteran Affairs, Hyundai and other business professionals spoke throughout the morning and afternoon, covering business-related topics.

They spoke on ways to strengthen business capabilities, on operational readiness, and on gaining certifications and obtaining government contracts.

Other topics included helping veterans grow and enhance their businesses, and funding through the State Small Business Credit Initiative.

The audience had a chance to ask questions of each speaker.

The conference has been sponsored by Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama and ASU’s Small Business Development Center for the past three years.

October 9, 2014

Rebecca Burylo, Montgomery Advertiser

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