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Deployment Bad for Business

In a new program, a non-profit center in Boston will train veterans at the VA hospital in Bedford. The Northeast Veterans' Business Center hopes to help patients start their own businesses or land jobs in veteran-owned ones.

Yet at the same time, many such businesses are becoming casualties of war as deployments have become longer and more frequent.

It's posing a problem for the six percent of guard and reserve members who own their own companies. WBUR's Business and Technology Reporter Curt Nickisch has more on their story.

TEXT OF STORY

CURT NICKISCH: When you're the head of a small company, going to war is bad for business. Take Mark Aldrich from Byfield. The gambling industry consultant had just spent sixty thousand dollars developing a client base when the Massachusetts Army National Guard deployed him for a year and a half. In Iraq, Aldrich used his business skills to manage military operations. At home, his company suffered operational failure.

MARK ALDRICH: It basically, yeah it disintegrated. Regardless of how it plays out, you're inevitably going to lose business. People aren't going to wait. Because they can't.

CURT NICKISCH: The deals he'd been brokering broke down. The person he'd hired to replace him was no substitute for the contacts in his head, his instinct for the marketplace. Aldrich tried managing from abroad. But he admits as his business hit rock bottom, he worried more about rocket-propelled grenades.

MARK ALDRICH: You're looking at it like: you know, honestly , I'll tell you: I could care less if the thing survives or doesn't survive, because I'm trying to survive. And I'm trying to survive for real, and I'm not trying to survive economically.

CURT NICKISCH: His wife cared, though, when he got home. Aldrich's company was eighty thousand dollars in debt. No go getting a loan to get back up and running. Banks said: what have you been doing for the last eighteen months? Your business has been bleeding money. Aldrich wishes the army had told him to open a line of credit before he deployed. And he wishes there were tax credits or low-interest loans for veterans like him.

LOUIS CELLI: We're going to go around the room real quick and you're going to do your twenty second elevator pitch...

CURT NICKISCH: Amid plaques commemorating war dead in Veterans Memorial Hall in Melrose, Louis Celli is teaching a class on entrepreneurship. The retired army recruiter started the non-profit Northeast Veterans Business Center. Lately, he's been seeing growing numbers of Massachusetts guard and reserve members lose their companies during deployment.

LOUIS CELLI: It would not be a sound piece of advice for me to give a guard or reserve member to engage in starting a business at this point, because there is no program that will support them through that if they get deployed.

CURT NICKISCH: Celli says the economy suffers with the lost jobs. He also says if self-employed citizens feel they can't take the financial risk of signing up, the military loses out.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: We'll do that do our part here in this committee. Senator Snowe?

CURT NICKISCH: Recently the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee held a hearing on the issue. William Elmore of the Small Business Administration told the panel there is a federal disaster loan that sometimes applies to such businesses.

WILLIAM ELMORE: I believe like you do that there's a significant problem occurring, but without the reservists themselves stepping up and utilizing the services that we do offer, to a degree we're stymied.

CURT NICKISCH: The committee chair, Senator John Kerry, has introduced legislation that would give small businesses that lose key personnel to deployments a ten thousand dollar tax credit. Small business veterans say the measure is a step in the right direction. Back in the Melrose veterans' hall, standing under a painting of minutemen at the Battle of Lexington, Louis Celli thinks the government should do more.

LOUIS CELLI: I mean let's face it: our country was founded on the men and women who left their businesses to their families when they went and served, and when they got back, people would specifically purchase from patriots and from veterans. Your status became elevated. And today, we don't have that.

CURT NICKISCH: Celli says unless there's more help for reservists to keep their businesses during deployment, citizens may soon have to choose between the American spirit of starting your own business, and the American tradition of serving in uniform.

For WBUR, I'm Curt Nickisch.

This program aired on March 7, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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