Borderland veterans have an annual conference devoted to helping them start or expand a business, but they may not even know this top-flight event is right in their own backyard.
The seventh annual Veterans Business Conference will be Aug. 15 at the Wyndham El Paso Airport Hotel, 2027 Airway.
Last year, about 350 people attended.
Organizers would like veterans to mark their calendar and plan to attend this year's event. It is free for attendees, but advance registration is required.
"The El Paso event is one of the very best veterans conferences in the country, hands down," said Gerald Paulsen, president and chief executive officer of Paulsen Productions in Illinois.
Paulsen will be the event's master of ceremonies for the third time.
The Veterans Business Conference is put on by the Contract Opportunities Center at El Paso Community College, the office of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, and the El Paso Small Business Consortium.
It will feature a full day of presentations, panel discussions, speakers, breakout educational sessions and networking opportunities designed to inspire and educate veterans about opportunities available to them.
The event is open to West Texas and Southern New Mexico veterans who want to start or expand a business, learn about contracting opportunities with government agencies or even find a job. It is also open to the public.
"It's always been free," said Lucio Glenn, field representative and small business liaison for Reyes' office. "It's the least we can do to say thanks to our veterans."
It would cost participants about $450 to attend a similar conference put on by the private sector, said Joe Conway, program manager with the Contract Opportunities Center.
Reyes saw the need to have a conference like this because of the explosive growth at Fort Bliss, Glenn said. More service members are also deciding to stay in El Paso after leaving the military, Glenn added.
"This is very personal to him (Reyes)," Glenn said. "He's a Vietnam veteran. He wants to help veterans excel once they leave the service."
The key part of the conference is one-on-one networking sessions that veterans can have with state, local and federal government agencies and prime contractors, Conway said.
"We have all these agencies in one place at one time," Conway said.
The keynote speaker will be Scott Denniston, the director of programs at the National Veteran-Owned Business Association. Reyes is also scheduled to speak.
Through breakout educational sessions, attendees can learn how to get certified to do business with the Veterans Affairs Department, learn how to team up with other businesses to bid on a contract, get updated on changes to federal regulations and learn how to better market their businesses.
Representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers will talk about contract opportunities associated with the construction of the new Beaumont Army Medical Center being built on East Fort Bliss. The U.S. Small Business Administration will lead a financial panel on how to get capital to start or expand a business.
Patricia Marcaida, a contract specialist with B&M Machinery Co., a veteran-owned business, has attended several times in the past and plans to go again this year.
"Investing time to attend this conference offers value to small businesses," she said. "I guarantee you will return home with new tools, valuable contacts and a renewed approach that will help you manage and grow your business better than ever."
The conference offers a break from the day-to-day routine of operating a business, Marcaida said.
"It's not only about learning, but you have fun meeting new people," she said.
Navy veteran Elmer T. Musshorn owns the company Marcaida works for.
Julian Grubbs is a retired Army sergeant major who now is owner and president of Express Office Products.
The conference helps veterans, especially ones who have just gotten out of the military, he said.
Grubbs has attended the event four or five times previously. It provides a great networking opportunity, he said.
"Even though I've been a few times, there is always something new, always a new government agency that hasn't participated and we haven't had a chance to meet with," Grubbs said.
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