Chamber adopts veteran, military growth intiative

Published on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 23:39 - Written by Casey Murphy, cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

The Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative — a strategic plan aimed to create economic and community development to the area using military focused strategies.

Jim Snow, president of the Rose Capital Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America and co-chairman of the veteran’s committee, said they looked at the area’s Industry Growth Initiative and decided there was an absence of veterans and military families within the community.

The new initiative has been endorsed by the Mayor’s Veterans Community Roundtable, Tyler’s Leadership Roundtable and the Tyler City Council.

Gretchen Martens, chairwoman of the committee, gave the board an overview of the Veteran and Military Growth Initiative, which includes more than 40 strategies and tactics to enrich the Tyler community and grow the local economy by using the strengths veterans and military families bring home.

Its objectives are to strengthen the Tyler and Smith County community; generate cost-savings to local government; and increase revenue brought to the area.

With nearly 2 million military members, including 10 percent of all National Guard members, Ms. Martens said Texas is about to pass California to become the No. 1 state in the nation for veterans and military members.

She said there are 16,429 veterans in Smith County and 50,000 who are affiliated with the military, which bring an economic impact of about $372 million.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated to have spent $174 million in benefits, pensions and medical care in fiscal year 2013 in Smith County — that’s roughly twice the budget of Smith County and three times the budget of the city of Tyler, she said.

Ms. Martens said Smith County has nearly 100 veteran-owned small businesses in Tyler. She said helping them grow and attracting new businesses here will help the community grow.

The core strategy of the initiative is to create a regional multi-sector veteran service delivery system and veteran-focused economic development projects that seize competitive advantage to create long-term, sustainable economic growth as America ends more than a decade of wars.

To do that, they have come up with 10 “Big Ideas.”

Ms. Martens discussed five of them at the meeting, including creating a public/private partnership, such as creating a veteran hiring initiative within the Tyler Chamber.

They also talked about starting a training academy for trades in construction and the oil and gas industries; supporting the expansion of a second Veterans Affairs Clinic here and the construction of a VA Medical Center.; becoming the hub for second career military retirees; and creating a branded message and marketing campaign to become America’s most veteran friendly community.

She said Tyler could become a leader and a model for other cities. “The time for us to act here in Tyler is now,” she said.

Ms. Martens said they want to do what’s best for the soldiers coming home who have so much potential. “We all want to keep in mind at the end of the day, it’s all about who is at stake,” she said.

Tyler Chamber Chairwoman Rosemary Jones said it was an opportunity for the chamber to support changes that will better the community.

The chamber board Tuesday also voted unanimously to support a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the November 2014 ballot.

The amendment would divert about $1 billion annually from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day fund) to the Texas Department of Transportation for funding.

Bob Westbrook, chairman of the chamber’s Area Development Council, said the funding would accelerate projects around the state.