From manufacturers to staffing agencies, veterans working hard to bolster business in Northern Nevada
SPARKS, Nev. — It started with a Facebook post.
Scott Stites, owner of motorcycle parts manufacturer Pulse Performance Parts, had been running his Sparks-based business for a few years when he noticed a pattern.
“We realized that every year around October and November, everything (sales-wise) would die,” said Stites, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
To try to curb the dip in holiday-season sales, Stites bought a new CNC plasma-cutting table, with the intention of making new products for motorcycles, high-end audio equipment and adaptive technologies.
To test out his new machine, Stites made two sample pieces that recognized his time serving in the U.S. military: a Marine Corps medallion and an American flag.
Pleased with the outcome, he snapped pictures of his metal art and posted them to Facebook.
A surge of “likes” followed.
“It just kind of took off instantly,” Stites said. “We had no intention of doing that stuff, but we started getting all of these orders for military stuff and flags … it turned into a metal art business on its own.”
With that, in 2015, Stites launched Sparks Metalcrafters as a DBA to Pulse Performance Parts. It didn’t take long for Stites to narrow his focus on making metal art to meet the growing demand — from fellow veterans, civilians and everyone in-between — for his intricately detailed, vibrantly colored pieces.
“I’m patriotic and most of our customers are super patriotic people,” Stites said. “They’ve spent a lifetime either working for the military or local, state, federal government. And there’s a lot of pride for people that are servants of the community or the country. A lot of those people are really, really prideful in what they’re doing or what they have done.”
Five years later, Sparks Metalcrafters’ pool of prideful clients keeps growing in Northern Nevada and beyond. Stites said the company, which ships nationwide, has seen a 25-30% growth in business year-over-year since launching.
Notably, he said the company only uses American-made equipment and materials.
“We try to keep everything right here and local,” he said. “It means something to me to support my country and my community. That’s putting money back in Americans’ pockets.”
Coming out of the Marines, Stites said he did not have a hard time transitioning into the workforce. However, he’s known many who have struggled.
“There are a lot of vets that come back with a lot of problems, whether they’re mental or physical problems and they have a hard time,” Stites said.
‘I really wanted to help’
Zach Kumler saw it all the time.
A veteran returns home after serving in the military and struggles to transition into the workforce. And those who do land a job would often find themselves in an unfulfilling role at an unlivable wage.
“A lot of times that is due to people leaving the military and taking on that first job,” Kumler told the NNBW. “Most of these people, like myself, their entire adult life was figuring out how to train soldiers to fight and kill the enemy. And then you transition and you’re like, ‘what am I going to do now?’ It’s a different mentality.”
Kumler, a Reno native who served in the Army as a Calvary Scout for eight years, felt compelled to help. After returning home from service in 2016, Kumler secured a job as a lead recruiter for Panasonic, which was in the early stages of building out its workforce at the massive Tesla Gigafactory east of Reno-Sparks.
Two years later, Kumler, who helped build training programs for the massive electronics manufacturer, felt he could use his recruiting skills and experience to help his military “brothers and sisters get out and transition” into corporate America.
“I really wanted to help veterans,” Kumler said. “After the wars started winding down, you have a massive pool of veterans that are getting out. And the only resource they have is the transition assistance program that is run through the Department of Labor, and it does not meet the needs of most veterans at all. So, they get out and transition into whatever job they find first and kind of get pigeonholed a lot of times and not usually utilizing their skills to the best of their ability.
“I found a need to jump into the pool and help these guys and girls getting out navigate what jobs are out in the workforce.”
With that, Alpha Roster was born.
The mission of Alpha Roster, Kumler said, is to place veterans and first-responders into meaningful careers. The organization acts as a staffing agency as well as an executive recruitment agency, he added.
In addition, Kumler said Alpha Roster helps job-seeking veterans and first-responders build their resumes; helps them navigate resources, such as daycare needs; gives them two free Uber rides; educates them how to use their GI Bill; and more.
“We’re really trying to focus on our candidates as opposed to our employers,” Kumler said. “We have good quality candidates going to them, but we want to make sure that we’re advocating on their behalf through the process.
“Understanding how you leverage those skills you learn (in the military) and get a better job is important to us so that we can ensure that they’re getting placement with good companies and not just going into the first job that they find.”
To that end, Kumler said Alpha Roster placed nearly 100 veterans in its first two years of operation. The organization, which is run by five team members, is on track to place between 100-150 in 2020 alone, he noted.
After all, the pandemic has deepened the pool of unemployed veterans. While the country’s jobless levels rates rose to levels not seen since the Great Depression, veteran unemployment rate jumped from a mere 3.5% in March to nearly 12% in April — two points higher than its peak during the 2008 recession — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This came on the heels of 2019, when the veteran unemployment rate was at its lowest level in 19 years at just 3.1%.
The latest BLS statistics show that July 2020 had a veteran unemployment rate of 8%, down from 8.8% in June. In comparison, the non-veteran unemployment rate was 10.3% in July.
‘Close to home for me’
Navy veteran Shane Whitecloud knows all too well the struggles of transitioning into the workforce after leaving the service.
Truth is, Whitecloud not only struggled to find a fulfilling job, he struggled to survive. In a 2018 interview with the NNBW, he recalled a rock-bottom moment when he only had a single slice of cheese in his fridge.
“For me, getting out of the military, the only job I could find was security,” Whitecloud told the NNBW in 2018. “Or I worked in a nightclub. I didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities thrown my way.”
This led Whitecloud on a years-long mission to help support veterans in their transition to civilian life and the workforce. For 13 years, he worked as a corporate outreach specialist for the Veterans Resource Centers of America.
Then in 2018, he founded the nonprofit Veteran Development Group, which launched a career development program called Operation: EMPLOY, designed for military personnel and first-responders, current and former.
Two years later, Whitecloud said the program has helped place more than 100 veterans in the workforce.
Moreover, the Whitecloud-led Veteran Development Group partnered with Courts Assisting Military Offenders-Reno, known as Veterans Treatment Court, a 12- to 18-month treatment option for high-risk, high-need veteran offenders. Whitecloud said his nonprofit provides assistance to the veterans by paying for things like drug testing, rehab, and childcare.
“It’s true to heart, and close to home for me,” Whitecloud said of helping his fellow veterans. “I think there was a point in time when I was angry and bitter. And through the work that we are doing every day, it’s just healing.”
Since launching its new pediatric products two years ago, Neo Medical has seen a 35% growth in sales; moreover, the company has seen revenue grow 15% year-over-year since relocating to Sparks in late 2012.