Blake Bourne felt disconnected after he was discharged as a U.S. Army infantry officer from Fort Bragg in 2012. He had plenty of duties as a stay-at-home dad when the family moved to Charlotte for his wife to take a pharmacist job at what is now Atrium Health.
But he was used to the regimented life of the military with activities assigned from dusk to dawn.
“I didn’t feel like I was part of anything,” remembers the veteran, who is now executive director of Veterans Bridge Home, an agency that changed its name from Charlotte Bridge Home in November 2017 to reflect its larger service area.
A year after moving here, with his wife secure in her new job and child care arranged for his son, Bourne took a job at Charlotte Bridge Home. The idea was to help other veterans move from military to civilian life as easily as possible.
Now leading the agency, which has an annual budget of $1.1 million, Bourne is working to push that number to $1.3 million this fiscal year. That’s huge growth from 2011, when Charlotte Bridge Home was founded by Charlotte businessman and Army vet Tommy Norman. He moved four families into his home and helped them find jobs, housing, work and child care.
Today, Veterans Bridge Home serves as a nonprofit that coordinates services for veterans from more than 50 agencies in the 10-county Charlotte region. To Bourne, the donations made to the agency go back into the community by providing productive and happy veteran families.
“There’s a return on investment for the local communities,” Bourne says.
Veterans Bridge Home has helped 4,000 former military families find jobs, housing, social connections and even volunteer activities.
Some of the best employers in the state, particularly in the Charlotte area, for hiring veterans are Atrium Health, Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., Novant Health, Sealed Air Corp., Duke Energy Corp., TIAA and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Bourne says.
Job services are a key function for the agency. Bourne’s staff ranks Charlotte regional employees on a tiered system based on how receptive they are to hiring veterans. It ranges from Tier 1 for companies that always seem to have openings for vets to Tier 3 for those who have vet-friendly policies.
“There are great companies to work for in Charlotte,” he says, with a healthy local economy that attracts former military families and others to the region.
Bill Dodgen, supervisor of local veterans’ employment services for the N.C. Department of Commerce, says vet joblessness in the Charlotte region is between 3.7% and 4.2%, depending on which agency’s statistics you use. That compares with vet unemployment rates of 7.1% in North Carolina and 6.6% in South Carolina, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers.
“We need more veterans, and non-veterans, to fill jobs in the Charlotte area,” Dodgen says. “There are a lot of jobs going unfilled.”
The growing economy and the vet-friendly companies have created a short waiting time for veterans looking for work, Bourne says.
“Within 90 days on average, we can find a job for a veteran,” he says. “Sometimes it’s two days.”