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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 9, 2009 12 years ago

Mission: Difficult

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The job market might be in tatters, but a pair of military veterans sees promise in running a business devoted to finding work for other veterans.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

The job market might be in tatters, but a pair of military veterans sees promise in running a business devoted to finding work for other veterans.


Todd Hecht and Curtis Hagens have a military-size problem: They run a business that finds people jobs at a time when not many companies are hiring people.

Turns out, however, that Hecht and Hagens have some experience in solving tough quandaries: Hecht spent 10 years as a senior level recruiter for the U.S. Navy in its Fort Myers-Naples region, specializing in surface warfare. And
Hagens spent a few years as an ammunition loader on an Abrams tank before being medically discharged from the U.S. Army.

Together, the business partners run Sarasota-based MilitaryStars, which is devoted exclusively to matching up military veterans nationwide with employers. Hecht and Hagens approach their job as if they are on a top-level military assignment, using everything from its proprietary software-infused Web site to job fairs and consulting services to help veterans find work.

“The military is really good at getting people to join up,” says Hecht. “But what they are not good at is getting people ready to go out and find a job.”

And Hagens adds that while the job market is no doubt a tough battlefront, it's not devoid of all opportunities. Companies are still hiring for the essential positions and replacing people that leave key posts. “You just have to find them,” says Hagen.

Hagens and Hecht use old-fashioned U.S. military might in working with potential employers: The company works with hiring personnel for all sorts of companies, from FedEx and UPS to small businesses. Then it sells those companies on the benefits of hiring a veteran, such as maturity, discipline and specialized skills.

“We're not just toting guns and carrying backpacks anymore,” says Hecht. “These are highly trained professionals.”

MilitaryStars began as a Gulf-Coast based subsidiary of Raleigh, N.C.-based Orion International, one of the largest military job placement companies in the country. Hecht ran the business under Orion for about three years, leading it to a peak of about $2 million in annual revenues by 2007.

But last year the company's sales began to slide downward with the economy, as other businesses cut back on hiring. Makes sense, as MilitaryStars makes a bulk of its revenues off charging employers a fee for being at job fairs and finding hires; all of MilitaryStars' services are free for veterans.

Then, earlier this year Hecht and Hagens took their biggest gamble yet: They bought the name MilitaryStars from Orion and ventured out on their own. The business partners decline to say how much they paid to turn MilitaryStars into an independent entity.

Nonetheless, the recession has clearly dampened their plans for MilitaryStars. The partners would like to eventually run job fairs for only security clearance jobs and other fairs devoted to IT opportunities. Once the economy rebounds, Hecht would also like to run events for veterans to learn more about franchising and financing that is available exclusively for military personnel.

While Hecht and Hagens would like to see annual revenues move back above $2 million, they also look at their job as a calling. They save all the letters of thanks they get from veterans who have landed jobs through their efforts.

“We're not in this for the money,” says Hecht. “We've always said that.”

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