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Web site serves military

Simi Valley company offers a resource center.

By Allison Bruce,
abruce@VenturaCountyStar.com
February 21, 2006

A small Simi Valley company wants to become one of the biggest resources on the Web for people in the military, including active members, retirees, reserves and their families.

Military Connection started to advertise jobs in base newspapers in 1999. Founder and President Debbie Gregory said it made sense to expand to the Web. MilitaryConnection.com launched last month. It is a free site that relies on employer recruitment ads to pay the bills but offers many more resources. The idea started simply enough, but grew as Gregory and her staff explored needs beyond job ads.

"The more I got involved and talked to people and saw the need, I wanted to give my audience something valuable," she said. "I wanted to make this a resource center." The site has become the company's main focus. The 18-month project has yielded a site with more than 600 pages. In addition to a directory of more than 10,000 employers throughout the United States, there are links to bases, hospitals, benefit groups, schools, coupons, business telephone directories, salary and costof- living calculators, a virtual job fair and a virtual mall.The site is so large it had to be moved to a private, dedicated server.It was done with a staff of four, a contracted development team, a public relations firm and an Internet marketing company.

Gregory said she has put up about $50,000 into developing the site and hasn't taken a paycheck since the project began. She works from six to seven days a week, with some 10- to 12-hour days."I worked on this much longer than I was pregnant with my son," the Thousand Oaks resident said. "It's a different kind of baby."

The heart of the site is the job listings. Gregory, who has a background in recruiting for high-tech firms, said companies recognize the value of hiring people out of the military. Years ago, military candidates were looked down upon, she said. "It has come full circle now," she said. "I have clients wanting to recruit military."

A big government client is Gwinnett County, about 30 miles northeast of Atlanta. Former military people are well-trained, highly skilled and disciplined, said Rick Veit, senior recruiter for the agency.There were 1.4 million active duty military members in 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The U.S. had nearly 1.2 million reserves, and 24.8 million veterans, of which 15.3 million were younger than 65. Gwinnett County has been growing rapidly in recent years, creating a lot of new positions for police officers, deputy sheriffs and corrections officers, Veit said. As baby boomers start to retire, the county is opening up additional positions.More job candidates are applying online. During the past year, from 80 percent to 85 percent of the 54,000 job applications the county received were online, Veit said. "It's not the wave of the future anymore," he said. "It's what's happening now."

Military Connection also emphasizes military charities. Gregory said advertisers get an automatic 5 percent discount. They can donate that discount directly to one of the charities affiliated with the site. Those that donate are recognized. One of the charities is Pen Pals for Soldiers Inc., based in Simi Valley. When Gregory learned of its proximity, she opened up her office and offered the group a cubicle with a dedicated phone line and access to the fax, copier and other office resources. Some of the Military Connection staff members give their time to help with proofreading or brainstorming for the nonprofit. Pen Pals for Soldiers arranges letters and care packages to go to people serving in the military overseas.

Barry Thomas started Pen Pals for Soldiers with his wife, Dawn. He said Gregory's devotion to her community and to helping people in the military and their families is evident through the Web site. "Without going through all the red tape of government and making a million phone calls, you can go there and it's right there," he said.Thomas said he often refers people who work with Pen Pals for Soldiers to the site as a "one-stop shop" for those in the military, their families and those considering the military.

A more focused site dedicated to jobs, http://HirePatriots.com, is operated by an Oceanside, Calif., firm. Servicemen can get help finding local jobs through that site and other resources at Naval Base Ventura County's Fleet & Family Support Center in Port Hueneme. After what she experienced as a breast cancer survivor, Gregory said she wanted to create a site that went beyond the basic tenets of business."I wanted this to do good for someone else aside from generating revenue just for us," she said.