Veteran-owned businesses were among those featured at the San Diego Small Business Expo in September. Courtesy County News Center

Each year, more than 200,000 U.S. military veterans return to civilian life, including 10 percent who have a desire to own a business, creating a pipeline of new entrepreneurs. Veterans are disciplined, well-trained leaders, so with access to capital and business training, their success rate as small business owners is high.

It’s no surprise then that there are more than 2.5 million businesses in the United States — about 10 percent of all small businesses — that are veteran-owned, generating more than  $1 trillion in sales annually.

Here in California, 250,000 veteran-owned small businesses generate approximately $135 billion in sales and produce over $217 million in annual payroll for their employees, according to a U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners.

These significant impacts underscore how important veteran-owned businesses are to the region. Notably, San Diego has a significant military presence, and is a hub for science and technology related startup companies.

However, veterans can struggle to find the capital and connections they need to get their businesses going. In fact, more than 75 percent of veterans reported encountering challenges as they started and looked to grow their business, citing access to capital as a top challenge, according to an Institute for Veterans and Military Families study.

I am proud that my company — Bank of America — has long provided access to capital for the men and women who served our great nation to make the transition into entrepreneurship. As the country’s No. 1 small business lender, our bank last year committed to help even more U.S. military veterans kick start and expand their own businesses by creating a $20 million Veteran Entrepreneur Lending Program to connect military veteran business owners with affordable capital.

So far, within one year of this new program, more than half of that capital – $14 million – has already been loaned to more than 170 veterans who are small business owners.

Having served the U.S. military with bank branches for more than a century, Bank of America provides active duty service members, veterans and their families with specialized products, reduced rates and flexible services that their lives demand — from enlistment through deployment to transitioning from military service and beyond.

Helping our veterans translate and utilize their tremendous military skills to become successful entrepreneurs driving local economies is an important way Bank of America can give back and show our gratitude to the brave men and women who have served in the military.

Clifford Cho is a senior vice president and the market executive for Bank of America in San Diego. He serves on the board of directors of the San Diego Military Advisory Council.

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