Daniel Freeman spent a decade in the Army, including fighting with special forces in the first Gulf War.
Injuries to his back, knee and ankle from parachute jumps forced a return to civilian life, where he runs two management consulting companies out of his Huntersville home.
Freeman is among an estimated 3 million veteran business owners. Like other groups, they are feeling the impact of the turbulent economy. Freeman recently split his Synergie Consulting into two when access to federal contracts began drying up, believing that this was a better approach to managing his resources.
Tony Zacchio runs a regional Veterans' Business Outreach Center in Florida, a U.S. Small Business Administration-funded office that covers the Carolinas and several other states. He has seen more calls for advice from veteran-owned businesses.
“They're just like everyone else, and are getting hit pretty hard” by the economy, Zacchio said.
While there's no precise count of veteran-owned businesses in the Carolinas, an SBA registry details a range, from security and construction to financial consulting, information technology, knife making and even a gift-baskets enterprise.
On this Veteran's Day, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates about 734,000 people in North Carolina and another 397,000 in South Carolina are veterans, part of about 23 million veterans nationwide.
Last year, the bureau published its first report on veteran entrepreneurs.
Among the findings: about two-thirds were 55 or older; nearly 7 percent became disabled during military service; and they tended to be better educated before starting their business when compared to the general population.
Freeman said the discipline, strategic planning and organizational development skills he learned in the service have helped him in the business world.
Access to capital remains a problem for veterans' businesses. But a recent change in federal law will make it easier for veterans to get SBA loans without collateral, said Gail Wegner, deputy director for the Center for Veteran Enterprise with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Such moves come too late to help Charlotte resident Tim McCorkill, who is looking for work after his 3-year-old delivery service failed earlier this year. He said lack of financing did him in.
McCorkill, 44, served in the first Gulf War, part of 12 years in the Navy.
“I'd like to be self-employed,” he said. “But we became a statistic.”
Freeman, 40, has struggled to secure larger contracts. He has 10 employees, but runs up against competitors that might have a couple hundred, yet are considered small businesses for purposes of securing government contracts or subcontracts.
“It's a hard time,” Freeman said, “but everyone's doing their part to get the country back on its feet.”