Hiring Our Heroes- "300 and Counting"

Posted October 1, 2012

By Kevin Schmiegel, USMC (Ret.)

Executive Director, Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

We launched Hiring Our Heroes at a fair in Chicago last year with a vision that our program would eventually take off and create a movement across America. We had no idea what to expect that first day. When it was over, more than 1,300 veterans and military spouses had come through the doors. We haven’t looked back since. It seems only fitting then that on Tuesday, a little more than 18 months later, we celebrate our 300th hiring fair milestone in the heart of America – Norfolk, Nebraska.

Norfolk is your quintessential Midwestern town. It’s about a two-hour drive northwest of Omaha and is home to just over 20,000 people. Manufacturing and agriculture are at the heart of its economy. And while we won’t have 1,300 job seekers come through as they did in Chicago, it’s just as important that we’re here because the veteran unemployment rate in rural areas can reach as high as 30 or 40 percent.

To achieve success, we knew from the beginning it would take a collaborative effort. We needed the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to come together to make a difference in veteran and military spouse unemployment. The American Legion is among our great partners leading the way and allowing us to be in places like Norfolk. They are also a major reason we have gone from hosting 100 hiring fairs in our first year to a goal of 400 in year two. Norfolk puts us halfway toward that goal and we’re right on pace.

So far, more than 10,400 veterans and spouses have gotten jobs through our hiring fairs. We’ve been in 49 states and we’ll hit 50 before the end of the year. Nebraska has become a shining example of what Hiring Our Heroes is all about. Governor Dave Heineman has voiced his support for our program. When we came to Lincoln in April, the Omaha World-Herald was quick to rally behind it. Walter Zink, the Nebraska state chairman of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, did the same. At a fair in June in Omaha, we heard employers say veterans have just the skills they’re looking for. It’s these voices that sustain us; that drive us; and that are helping the men and women who have served our country.

There is still much work to be done. Hundreds of thousands of veterans across this great country remain out of work. But we’re encouraged to see so many different people work toward a common goal – committed to helping veterans and military spouses find not just the jobs, but the careers they richly deserve.