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‘Opportunity Knox’ just across the river

‘Opportunity Knox’ just across the river
‘Opportunity Knox’ just across the river
Garrison Commander Col. Thomas J. Edwards, the self-described "mayor" of Fort Knox, Ky., said the base has a $1 billion annual impact on the Kentuckiana area. The base has the largest battalion of engineers in the United States and is the headquarters for the Army's Transition Assistance Program. All Army personnel go through TAP as they exit the Army, giving the Kentuckiana area an enormous pool of potential employees once soldiers are discharged. Photo by Alan Stewart

It’s been said that 77 percent of all people between the ages of 18 and 24 are ineligible to join the United States Army, due either to lack of a high school education, poor fitness, drug use or criminal history. The 23 percent who do make it and are honorably discharged are generally healthy, educated, highly skilled and disciplined, making them highly sought-after job applicants.
Since base realignment several years ago, Fort Knox, located a short drive away in Kentucky and formerly the home of the Army’s Armor School, is now the headquarters for the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command and Transition Assistance Program. All Army personnel go through TAP at Fort Knox as they exit the Army, either physically or virtually.
In 2013 alone, 132,000 soldiers were transitioned out of the Army.
A new program, called Where Opportunity Knox, hopes to help connect discharged veterans to communities in a 26-county region in the Kentuckiana area, including Harrison, and connect 10,000 transitioning veterans and their spouses to jobs in the region during the next three years. While it sounds like there are more veterans than jobs available, in actuality the 26-county Where Opportunity Knox-area averages from 6,000 to 8,000 open jobs per day.
Beth Avey, director of Where Opportunity Knox, recently was the lunchtime speaker of the Corydon Rotary club and gave another presentation to prospective employers, including Harrison County’s Horseshoe Southern Indiana, at Fort Knox last week.
During Avey’s presentations, she said transitioning veterans usually choose one of three options for where they live: where their home had been, where they are discharged and where there are job opportunities.
Using a Regional Veteran Connector, veterans get information about job openings, schools and various other types of networking tools to get plugged in to the area.
‘When it comes to economic development, what is likely the No. 1 or No. 2 thing that business owners and new business looking to locate here or businesses wanting to grow, what are they looking for? Good employees,’ Avey said. ‘If we as a region are able to define a solution that can help solve that problem, it’s a competitive advantage.
‘Inability to access talent can be No. 1 barrier in job growth,’ she said. ‘With Fort Knox, we have a phenomenal asset in our backyard.’
One of Avey’s RVCs is Erin Mires, an Air Force veteran who is originally from Eagle River, Wis. Her husband, who was also in the Air Force, always wanted to be a pilot for United Parcel Service. Upon the couple’s discharge, they were connected with the Louisville area and originally moved to Southern Indiana before moving to the River City.
During a video, Mires, who was in attendance, said the connections she was able to make with the discharge program made her feel welcome in the community.
Avey said RVCs are people on her team who meet every day with employers who are hiring or may be hiring soon, and meeting with veterans. It takes that personalized customer assistance to make those connections, Avey said, and RVCs help bridge the gap and give information about a community.
Though the organization has a website, whereopportunityknox.com, it’s a personal touch that each soldier will receive.
‘Let’s say there’s a family with a special-needs child and there’s an employment opportunity in Corydon. The RVC would help find out what kinds of services are available in Corydon for a child with autism, who they should talk to and who they should be connected with on a personal level,’ Avey said. ‘Our default will never be to send a vet to a website. We do everything by phone, email or face to face.’
Avey went on to describe the kinds of people being discharged.
‘I’m an Army vet, so I needed help understanding exactly what this was, but, as I was going over (Mires’) resum’ and it said she was in air battle management. I mean, she’s not even 30 years old and she’s got three degrees, bilingual or trilingual, Ph.D. with everything but her dissertation. What’s an air battle manager? Then she tells me,’ Avey said, ‘she’s monitoring and making sure our men and women on the ground are safe and, if not, then she calls in fighters and bombers and would make sure the enemy was killed, saved lives of service members and limited civilian causalities.
‘She was responsible for billions and billions of dollars of military equipment, hundreds of thousands of lives and had to make quick, important decisions every day. That’s the type of talent we want in our communities. But we already snatched her up.’
Avey said employers of all sizes are needing people who show up to work, can pass drug screen, can take on responsibility, are good team players but also good leaders. Opportunity Knox is geared more toward smaller to medium-sized businesses.
‘We want veterans to know that the greater Louisville region is open to them, wants to support them and wants to provide them with opportunities. Also, we want to help businesses grow. We aren’t going to allow just any business to put our logo on their website. They have to make the commitment,’ Avey said. ‘So many veterans say to please not do this out of patriotic pride, please don’t do this out of pity; do it because it makes good business sense and is the smart thing to do.’
Transition classes are taught at Fort Knox to help transition a soldier to the public sector.
At a jobs skills class, an instructor had students Google their names and describe what came up, noting that prospective employers can check the same thing. The instructor told the students it was vitally important that they clean up their online presence and remove, or block, anything that could get them into trouble down the road. Another class taught the advantages and disadvantages of limited liability companies.
Four foundations ‘ the Duke Energy Foundation, the Gheens Foundation, the Ogle Foundation and, most recently, the James Graham Brown Foundation ‘ have provided seed capital to help Where Opportunity Knox test the model and prove this model and become a veteran talent magnet for Kentuckiana.

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