One important aspect of economic development is community partnerships. When your community is a defense community, like Wichita Falls, those partnerships extend to the military installation.

When we held our first round table meeting at the end of January (2019) the intention was to invite leadership from both Sheppard Air Force Base and the community. In doing so we hoped to create a network of resources that would help both parties further their overall missions.

We found ourselves in awe of the willingness to be involved and the resulting follow-through. Many of us believe that it’s always about the people and in this case that was absolutely what we witnessed.

This second military round table was an opportunity to celebrate what has been accomplished thus far and readdress what needed further attention.

One example:

Boots to Business (a 2-day workshop and introduction to entrepreneurship) is currently a program that has been offered only at the Air Force Base. Even though it is available to all military affiliates it has become more of a seminar that only a select few were utilizing.

With the help of the round table, the group was able to see the benefit in working toward moving the program off base to attract a larger portion of the military population.

Daniel Leslie, from the SBDC, is the leader in making this come to fruition. Our combined hope is to include subject matter experts within our community that will enhance this program and give the veterans and their families access to resources that may not have been made aware of before.

More to come on that so stay tuned!

Another great example:

I.D.E.A. WF is a small business plan competition currently in their 10th year.  Dr. Scott Manley, who runs the program, is hoping to see it grow and continue to support local small businesses and entrepreneurs.

One way to do that is by adding a new category for the military.  His hope is to gain more financial support allowing the winners of the competition to be awarded similar stipends as those in peer communities, as well as support this new category.

Why add this category?

One fact provided by the SBA (Small Business Association): “Veterans are roughly 45% more likely to form their own business compared to people who haven’t served any time in the military.”

Last, many of you have read about or heard us make mention of Hiring Our Heroes and what that means for our community. The first step we are taking is asking our local employers to track the military spouses they hire. Next, we will be talking about breakout groups to work toward solving some of the bigger issues we may face as a defense community.

Together, we are baby-stepping our way toward creating and facilitating some amazing things. The thing to remember is that this is a marathon and not a sprint. It will take teamwork and planning.

Finally, be sure to stay tuned because it will be worth the end result.

P.S. As lack of workforce continues to be an ongoing issue in not only Wichita Falls, but nationwide, we will look for unique opportunities to tip the pendulum. The military focus is one angle that we are working on but not by any means the only one.

If you have questions about this Roundtable event, please email the Chamber of Commerce’s Director of Research, Adrene Wike