Veteran Business Outreach Center provides help, resources

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — There is a place just for veterans at Gulf Coast State College.

The J.R. Asbell Business Building is home to one of 22 Veteran Business Outreach Centers across the country. The VBOC provides free resources and supports for veterans, military spouses and those transitioning from military service.

The VBOC has been recognized twice, in 2014 and 2018, as the top VBOC in the country.

“Our main emphasis is active duty military members and spouses who are separating from military service who want to start a business,” Brent Peacock, associate director of the VBOC, said.

Florida’s VBOC has a four-person staff. They travel to all 12 Florida military bases four times per year to teach a two-day class called Boots to Business, which gives participants an overview of what it takes to start a business. They also work with military members internationally.

“Oftentimes our troops are deployed or in remote locations, they often have time on their hands and are thinking about the future … maybe they’ve seen an opportunity to work as a contractor with the military being offshore or they want to take a completely different tact and open up a flower shop or a coffee shop,” Jamie Shepard, VBOC business consultant, said.

Military spouses, and those who are already retired or separated from the military, can use the VBOC’s services anytime as well.

Soul Sisters Custom Creations is a Panama City business who has received counseling from the VBOC. Heather Risinger, a veteran and military spouse, and her friend and fellow military spouse Courtney Dickerson, started making art from Hurricane Michael debris.

As their business grew, they found the VBOC, which suggested looking into franchises similar to what they were doing.

They found Board and Brush, and plan to open a location in downtown Panama City in October. They will offer items such as wood signs, trivets, pillows and door mats available for guests to customize. Beer and wine will also be available.

“It’s truly DIY- you get to hammer, you get to nail, you get to sand, you get to build your project from a bare piece of wood and turn it into something beautiful,” Risinger said.

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