By Arielle Martinez and Kristy Gerlett
Suffolk County Community College is going to open a center to train veterans in business and entrepreneurship skills on the college’s Grant Campus in Brentwood in late September.
The college announced in July that Empire State Development awarded the college a grant of up to $42,000 to create the Veterans Business Assistance Center. The center will be the only one of its kind in the Long Island region and one of seven centers in New York state.
The training program will run in the Sally Ann Slacke Corporate Training Center building from Sept. 28 to Dec. 14, Daphne Gordon, the project administrator of the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program center at the college, said.
The program will be open to not only the college’s students but also nonstudent veterans living on Long Island. The program is free for veterans, and about 20 people have signed up so far, Gordon said.
Dean Santiago, a 55-year-old veteran from Riverhead who served in both the Navy and Army, said he signed up for the 60-hour training program after seeing a flyer at the Lindenhurst Memorial Library.
“Knowledge is power,” Santiago said. “That’s what I’ve determined.”
Santiago, who said he “never wanted to work for someone else,” started a paralegal company that used to have an office in Lindenhurst. But shortly after the recession, he lost his location and now conducts his business meetings at local Panera Breads.
“I didn’t know how to market myself,” Santiago said. Knowledge of marketing skills is one of the many things he hopes to gain from the training program.
The program is a two-step process, Gordon said.
“The first step is have them look at their military skills, to see how they can convert them into the workforce and see if there’s a business opportunity there,” Gordon said. “Then we’ll teach them the model they need to turn it into a business opportunity.”
The program will invite guest speakers — lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and representatives from lending institutions — to give veterans advice on any aspect of running a business, Gordon said.
Empire State Development, a government agency, awarded the grants to seven of the agency’s 22 Entrepreneurial Assistance Program centers in the state. Two of the program centers are on Long Island: one at Suffolk County Community College and the other at Hofstra University in Hempstead.
Suffolk County has the largest population of veterans of any county in New York state — up to 100,000 veterans living in Suffolk alone, Tom Ronayne, the director of Suffolk County’s Veterans Service Agency, said.
“I think the fact that they pursued this grant and secured it really shows the commitment this county has to doing everything we can to help out veterans,” Ronayne said.
There were over 912,000 veterans living in New York state from 2009 to 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.
The benefit of having a Veteran Business Assistance Center in Suffolk County will be much greater for Long Island communities than it will be for any individual veteran, Ronayne said.
“Veterans are good businesspeople,” he said. “We’re good employees. We’re good for the community because we have a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility.”
The 2015-2016 New York state budget has allocated $350,000 to the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program for the development of Veteran Business Assistance Centers. The state Omnibus Economic Development Act created the program in 1987.
“In 2015 alone, EAP centers provided services to more than 1,400 participants statewide,” Joyce Smith, the director of the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, said. “And we expect great things from the Suffolk County Community College Veteran Business Assistance Center in the coming months.”