Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Michael S. Landram, President and Chief Executive Officer, Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, Fort Wayne, IN
Thank you Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. My name is Mike Landram. I am President and CEO of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce. We are the third largest Chamber in Indiana with over 1700 members who do a total of $18 billion of business in over 750 industries in Northeast Indiana.
The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce is very involved in veteran’s affairs issues. In addition to having veteran-owned businesses as members, we are heavily engaged in advancing the defense industry in northeast Indiana.
Like the rest of the country, we are acutely aware of the employment struggles veterans are faced with. We have a unique insight into that issue due to the large National Guard base in Fort Wayne. We are in regular communication with the base on issues facing their Guardsmen and are actively pursuing programs to fight unemployment among veterans.
The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce is a charter member of the Northeast Indiana Defense Industry Association Board (NIDIA). NIDIA’s Membership is comprised of businesses, higher education, Congressional staffers, all working toward a common goal: funding the defense industry and providing regional support and promotion for the industry and the contributions made to the defense industry in Fort Wayne.
Secondly workforce development is a critical concern for the defense cluster. Many of the members of NIDIA have worked together to define their future staffing needs. Due to the aging engineer workforce, engineers in many specialized areas will be retiring. Members of NIDIA worked very closely in a collaborative fashion to communicate these skill needs with their university partners as a way to ensure future graduates will meet industry needs.
Additionally many small businesses in Northeast Indiana have started and serve within the supply chain for the defense industry. For example, the NIDIA group conducted a member expo as a way for the various small business members to describe their products and services to the defense members. At monthly NIDIA meetings presentations are done by businesses to the Board that outline how the businesses can work collaboratively with the defense industry in hiring and employing veterans.
Lastly Northeast Indiana established PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center) in 2009. The PTAC serves as an advisor to businesses informing them how to qualify themselves in doing business with government.
In addition to our involvement with NIDIA, our Chamber is assisting the National Guard base with implementing a STARBASE program in Fort Wayne. STARBASE is geared towards elementary students, mainly fifth graders, to expose them to STEM. These students are traditionally at-risk students. The program encourages their learning in areas of academics that are historically under-represented in STEM. Military volunteers from “National Guard, Navy, Marine, Air Force Reserve and Air Force bases across the nation work with students to set and achieve goals by applying abstract principles to real world situations”. STARBASE is a perfect example of the investment we can make in the young people of our society in the hopes that they will take this experience and apply it to whatever field they choose to pursue.
We know the issue of unemployment among veterans is an issue that will continue for the unforeseeable future, given our current economic state. To that end, our Chamber, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is planning on hosting a Hiring Our Hoosiers event in Fort Wayne in the next year. The scheduling of this event has not been set due to the uncertainty of the deployment schedule in our area. These events benefit not only veterans, but are open to their spouses as well. The issues Veterans face concerning employment are substantial. As home to a National Guard base, we hear stories of soldiers deployed, only to return to jobs that have been downsized or eliminated. At the same time, in this double dip recession, their spouses are having trouble maintaining employment. While these issues are not unique to veterans, they are exacerbated by their inability to determine their schedule.
As part of our commitment to furthering the advancement of the military in Fort Wayne, I sit as Secretary of the newly formed Fort Wayne Base Community Council. Our purpose is as stated: to continue and improve the outstanding relationship between the civilian community and the military service community centered around Fort Wayne, Indiana; and to promote the general welfare, prosperity, and quality of life between military and civilian populations. By being involved with this Council, our goal is to partner businesses and military in order to create a mutually beneficial partnership among them.
In closing, our focus is not confined to working in our community. We are also engaged at the State level in legislation that will benefit Veterans. During the 2011 General Assembly, our Chamber supported State Representative Tom Dermody’s bill, House Bill 1183, to study the effects of a 3% price preference for veteran-owned businesses in Indiana. It was assigned to the Commission on Military and Veterans Affairs for study in the interim. We know that, while small, this is an important step forward for Veterans and a step in the right direction in addressing the unemployment issues among them. In addition to supporting this bill, our Chamber was instrumental in getting one of our Members, Jerry Hogan, a veteran and business owner in northeast Indiana, appointed to the Commission to ensure that Veterans were getting the most benefit from the price preference.
If the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce can be of any assistance in this important fight, I encourage you to call on us. Thank you again for your time and attention to this significant matter.
 DoD STARBASE. (2011). Program Description. Retrieved from: http://www.starbasedod.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=66&Itemid=60