ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jose Ocampo moved to the United States from Nicaragua as a child in 1980 after his family was granted political asylum.
After a tour of duty in the U.S. Marine Corps and a few years at the University of New Mexico, he set his sights on being an auto mechanic and eventually opening his own shop. He graduated from the Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix and moved to Santa Fe to work in a friend’s auto repair shop until he was ready to go solo.
Having his own business “was just something I wanted to do,” Ocampo said. After he reached that milestone at the age of 24, his next goal was to buy his own building, which would increase the value of his business and give him a tangible asset he could sell in the future.
Ocampo heard about The Loan Fund, a nonprofit lender that works with startup and veteran-owned small businesses that often don’t meet the lending criteria of a traditional bank. In 2013, with a loan from The Loan Fund, Ocampo moved his business into a new building on Siler Lane. Today the business, Santa Fe Exclusive Honda and Acura Repair, is the recipient of 5-star reviews on Yelp. “Hands down the best auto repair experience in Santa Fe or pretty much anywhere,” a 2018 reviewer said; “honesty, generosity and helpful service,” another said in October 2019.
While veterans are celebrated on Veterans Day, the U.S. Small Business Administration dedicates the entire month of November to veteran business owners. The Southwest Veterans Business Conference, sponsored by the SBA and held Nov. 4-5 in Albuquerque, launched the month by connecting past and present service members and their families to resources designed to help them start or build a business. An entire day was dedicated to one-on-one business counseling.
Veterans come to the private-sector workforce with a lot to offer, including advanced training in specialized fields such as logistics, security, information technology, personnel management and administration. They work well under pressure. They understand the importance of following instructions and protocol and appreciate the need for teamwork and leadership. In other words, veterans have the skills needed to start and manage a business.
Government and nonprofit organizations are eager to provide support because they recognize the economic development veterans create when they start businesses.
The New Mexico Veterans Business Outreach Center helps veterans take businesses from startup to maturity. The center, which works statewide from its office in Albuquerque, can help with such basic work as deciding on a company name or creating an actionable marketing plan. It works with resource providers to conduct workshops and offer services tailored specifically for veteran entrepreneurs, and it pairs veterans who have experience in business with those just starting out. Learn more at nmvboc.org.
The Procurement Technical Assistance Center helps businesses compete for government contracts. Its advisers work statewide from Small Business Development Center offices in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Clovis and Santa Fe. It provides workshops, training and counseling. Visit nmptac.org for more information.
The Loan Fund works with small businesses – including veteran-owned enterprises – and nonprofit organizations to tailor loans to their resources. It also provides expert advice to its clients. Over the last 30 years, it has loaned close to $88 million to New Mexico businesses that have created or retained more than 10,000 jobs. Find more information atloanfund.org.
Finance New Mexico connects individuals and businesses with skills and funding resources for their business or idea. To learn more, go to FinanceNewMexico.org.