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State Works To Get Vets in Jobs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state Department of Veterans Services is working with a local industry association to help veterans retiring or returning from Afghanistan find jobs in New Mexico’s growing aviation and aerospace industry.

The New Mexico Aviation/Aerospace Association will help the state build a database of local companies looking to hire veterans, said association co-founder Bill McMillan.

The state would then work to connect former military personnel with prospective employers, and assist those who need more skills to pursue training and certification, said Veteran Services Secretary Tim Hale. It would also help veterans start their own companies through the Veterans Business Outreach Center.

“There is a broad spectrum of people leaving the military who are uniquely qualified for this industry,” Hale said. “We have a real concentration of expertise here, and we want to keep that brain trust and talent in New Mexico.”

Most Air Force veterans are well-suited for civilian aviation and aerospace jobs, but so are many who served in other military branches, Hale said.

“Someone in infantry today deals with a lot of high-tech equipment, from fiber optics to stealth technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles,” Hale said. “They have a lot of knowledge and experience that’s directly transferable to commercial markets.”

Many veterans are already certified to work on different types of aircraft, engines and parts when they leave the military, McMillan said.

Those without certification can often still find jobs in non-certified positions, said Lowell Whitten, vice president and general manager for Cutter Aviation Inc. at the Albuquerque International Sunport.

“I have 10 veterans in the line department, which doesn’t require certification,” Whitten said. “If they had experience in the military, they usually know all the fundamentals, and that’s a plus.”

Sandia Aerospace Corp. President and CEO Dennis Schmidt said he hired a veteran who worked as a tank diesel mechanic because his skills are applicable to avionics work.

“He has good ability to diagnose issues, whether it’s an airplane, a tank or a vehicle,” Schmidt said.

Hale and association representatives will meet with Gov. Susana Martinez this summer to seek support for the initiative, and for tax incentives to help grow the aviation industry and create more jobs.

New Mexico aviation and aerospace companies are at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states because they pay gross receipts taxes on both parts and labor, McMillan said.

“Colorado has no tax on either one, and Texas and Arizona tax one or the other, but not both,” he said.

Hale said the initiative could improve employment among New Mexico veterans, particularly youths who joined the service after 9/11 and have few, if any, job skills other than what they learned in the military.

“The veteran unemployment rate usually runs about 2 percent higher than the general unemployment rate, but it’s 25 to 26 percent for veterans in the 25- to 31-year-old age group,” Hale said.

New Mexico has a vibrant and growing aviation industry. A recent association study showed that between 200 and 300 companies operate here, generating about $1.7 billion annually and employing nearly 7,000 statewide. Another 6,000 work for public and private airports in the state, or for aviation-related businesses at airports.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal