Why Ohio Could Be the No. 1 Destination for Veteran Jobs and Businesses


Move over, Texas: Ohio is coming in hot. The state is looking to attract the next generation of military families, entrepreneurs and veterans ready to join the civilian workforce. In a series of moves that decentralize economic aid and community support, JobsOhio wants veterans to come back to the heart of it all.

In 2011, Ohio privatized its economic development department into a nonprofit corporation: JobsOhio. Using the power of capitalism, it has since spurred job creation and business development in nine sectors.

JobsOhio was privatized by then-Governor John Kasich in 2011. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The organization is now ready to begin attracting employers and talent in a 10th sector: military installations and the federal government. Unlike other sectors of the Ohio economy, such as transportation, agribusiness and manufacturing, it's not an area as well-known to Ohioans.

"Installations like Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the Dayton region are significant parts of the economy," says JobsOhio CEO JP Nauseef, a former Air Force officer. "Many people aren't sure what Wright-Patt does, but they know a lot of people work there."

A lot of people do work at the base -- more than 27,000 military members and civilians at last count. It's the headquarters of Air Force Materiel Command and the largest of a handful of military and other government installations in the state.

With an estimated 93,000 people employed in the federal and military sector, JobsOhio is investing in programs to position the state for military missions, military members and military families. One of the initiative's goals is to set Ohio apart in terms of policies and laws that support spouses, veterans and retirees.

It starts with creating six regions of development throughout the state that can respond to the needs of businesses and individuals with what it calls a "local touch." This model, Nauseef said, gives the initiative a competitive advantage. Another advantage: the communities of military support that have been created over the years.

"Our communities have already developed varying levels of supportive infrastructure," Nauseef said. "We are augmenting that support with a focused set of priorities and a congressional delegation that supports military installations. And we're going to leverage that support."

Part of that underpinning includes a cadre of veterans, business leaders and longtime government employees. These high-level advisers are all close to the leaders and decision-makers in its newest sector, including the Department of the Air Force, NASA and the Ohio governor's office.

JobsOhio isn't an out-of-touch government program, Nauseef said. It's a nonprofit corporation that doesn't use taxpayer money or other public funds; it actually runs a business in Ohio. It's a 501(c)4 that has a contract with the State of Ohio to run the day-to-day operation of the Division of Liquor Control.

In running that division, it knows the challenges faced by businesses throughout the state's six regions. It takes profits and losses like any other business and operates solely on revenues from the sale of spirits in the state. It also gauges the needs and concerns of Ohio communities through a series of town halls throughout its communities.

Despite the pandemic that slowed the entire country to a crawl in 2020, the program has seen successes already, including an updated intel center for the Space Force. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center broke ground at Wright-Patterson in 2020 -- a $182 million project.

"It's been a wonderful 2020, which I know you don't really hear a lot," says Elaine Bryant, JobsOhio's managing director. "It's been slow, but we've been building foundations across the state. Recapitalizing aircraft, modernizing aircraft. ... We're excited to host NASA and the Space Force because they know the workforce we have across Ohio is second to none."

Another aspect of the initiative is awareness and communication about what Ohio has to offer.

"We've got technology drivers here. We've got new innovations. Healthy lifestyles, a reasonable cost of living and interesting value propositions in a diverse economy with a lot of different sectors," Nauseef said. "But the credit for the success goes to those people that are doing the work. We are their advocates, you know. We're cheerleaders for them, based on where we come from and Ohio's culture and value system. It's just part of who we are."

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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