Brown County veterans add $400 million to economy, but some are hurting

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GREEN BAY − Richard White wanted to continue serving the community after his service in the United States Navy ended. With years of experience in retail and business management, he found employment with a company he believes provides valuable local service.

“It gives us (veterans) that opportunity,” he said of his employer, “to get out there and help our community, to be something a little bigger than what we are.”

White served four years in the Navy aboard the USS Wisconsin, stationed in northern Virginia. He had planned to move to Florida to start a franchise of a veteran-owned business, Removal and transport of waste Jdogwhen an accident in Green Bay left him with a neck injury that changed those expectations.

Instead of starting his business, White became operations manager in a Jdog Franchise which serves the Brown County area, Fox Valley and up to Milwaukee and Madison; its central offices are at 312 W. Northland Ave. at Appleton.

The franchise, owned by a married military veteran couple, focuses on trash removal and hauling, but White says they offer a wide range of services.

Catherine Peters launched the Fox Valley-based franchise in 2020, and since then her revenue has grown 27%. Now with 14 employees, local business Jdog plans to move to a new location in Little Chute that will allow for more storage capacity, Peters said by email.

According to the company’s website, the Jdog franchise donates 25% of what it carries to veterans organizations, Goodwill and other charities.

Veteran-run businesses and veteran workers generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in economic impact in northeast Wisconsin while filling an array of niches. Yet many veterans rely on benefits as they struggle to keep their jobs and suffer from mental health issues, addictions and homelessness.

Veteran American companies produce millions a year

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a fiscal year 2022 budget of $338.73 billion for benefit programs and departmental administration. Of that amount, Wisconsin receives $3.5 billion for its 390,000 veterans, said Joseph Aulik, director of the Brown County Office of Veterans Services.

Brown County has 15,000 veterans and 5,000 widows of veterans, he said, all of whom can participate in veterans programs for insurance and benefits, compensation and pension, l education and vocational rehabilitation and employment, medical expenses, construction and loans.

“We have to remember that these people volunteered to go and serve the country,” Aulik said.

This year, Brown County veterans received $6.2 million in benefits. Benefits in Brown County total nearly $130 million each year. Adding income from work and other income, plus $196.6 million in goods and services, Aulik said veterans have an economic impact of just over $400 million on the economy of the Brown County.

“Veterans are in high demand for employment because of their dedication and commitment,” he said. “At the end of the day, all of this money enters the economy in different ways.”

Veterans own 9.1% of all U.S. businesses, employing nearly 6 million Americans and generating $1 trillion in annual revenue, according to a recent report by SCORE.org, a business network of mentors that helps entrepreneurs and small business owners nationwide.

Despite the impact, many veterans still lack basics

Nevertheless, there are veterans who simply struggle to maintain a constant source of food, security and shelter.

As of August, there were 76 homeless veterans in shelters in Green Bay, said Gail Nohr, secretary of Veterans 1st NEW. The non-profit organization aims to provide a safe and supportive veteran community of small homes for local veterans in need of transitional and affordable housing.

With Kim Nohr, her husband and president of the association, they plan to build a village of 19 small houses that could provide housing for veterans. The organization is working with the city to determine where this village will be placed.

Even though homelessness in Wisconsin has been on a downward trend since 2009, when it peaked at 11.6 per 10,000 people, according to reports by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, each homeless person costs taxpayers about $36,000 a year. Gail Nohr, a veteran herself, says her nonprofit could help cut that cost by 50%.

“We have to provide services to them, we have to do more than the status quo,” she said.

Veterans 1st NEW was inspired by the James A. Peterson Veterans Village in Racine, but Nohr said she hopes her nonprofit can offer even more services. It is his vision and mission to rehabilitate veterans and provide them with a way out of the mental health issues and economic problems they may be facing.

“We want to provide safe housing first and then work on addiction and mental health,” she said, “because when you’re homeless, you can’t focus on those things.”

The nonprofit organization could house nine homeless veterans every 12 to 24 months with services that could help them better equip themselves to live on their own. It will also provide affordable tiny homes for 16 veterans for as long as needed.

Some of the services the organization seeks to provide are mental health, addictions as well as canine and equine therapy, job training, job placement, financial literacy, spiritual support, carpentry lessons, fishing trips and gardening.

Once the facility is operational, Kim Nohr said it will generate 75% of rental income and 25% of subsidies. They expect to reduce construction costs with different partnerships and to receive donations from local unions and businesses like Home Depot.

The first Veterans’ Village would be the first project in Brown County, he said, but he hopes it won’t be the last.

Ariel Perez is a business reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. You can reach him at [email protected] or check out his Twitter profile at @Ariel_Perez85.

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