Veterans who served their country in the military are now serving their community by running successful businesses.
Although specific numbers are hard to come by, Sharon Sappington, executive director of Island County’s Economic Development Council, said there are 31 businesses that have registered as veteran-owned on Whidbey island, but the real number is likely much higher.
From large companies to home businesses and just about everything in between, there are a wide variety of companies to choose from.
“Whidbey is one of the best locations in the world to be stationed for the military and consequently has one of the highest percentages of veteran populations in Washington State,” said Steve Bristow of the Oak Harbor Navy League. “It is no wonder many veterans choose to live here and make up some of our most hard-working and professional business owners.”
Whidbey Septic is Oak Harbor-based and owned by two brothers who both served in two different branches of the military. Ben and Seth Miller inspect septic systems to make sure they are functioning properly and being maintained. They also do new construction installs for people who are developing land, building a home or just want to upgrade their system.
Ben and Seth’s father was in the Navy, as well as their grandfather. There are five brothers in total and four of them have served in the military. The fifth and youngest will likely follow in their footsteps soon.
Ben served in the Army infantry. Seth joined the Marines straight out of high school. Both credited the military for teaching them the skills they needed to run a business.
“I think the military helped us start our business just because, for me, I went to school after the Marines so I used my G.I. Bill,” Seth said. That gave him the freedom to focus on what he wanted. He enjoys working outside and the septic business fits the bill.
Ben said that being in the infantry doesn’t translate to many skills in the civilian world, but the leadership, responsibility and work ethic he learned helped him enormously.
“Being in the infantry, we’re always outside so it helped for a job like this,” he said. “Rain or shine we gotta be out doing our job.”
Both brothers stressed the importance of maintaining septic systems on a place like Whidbey Island, where so many properties are close to the ocean. Seth said in an ideal world, the community would have a schedule where they could inspect the septic systems of entire neighborhoods at once. In reality, many people neglect maintaining their systems or are simply unaware they should have regular inspections.
“It’s a pretty important job that people like to forget about because nobody really wants to worry about it,” Seth said.
People who have never lived on septic systems until they move into a rural area often don’t know the procedure. Septic systems cannot handle the same amount of use that sewers can.
Whidbey Septic serves the entire island, Camano Island and soon will be licensed to work in Skagit County.
In Central Whidbey, Anchorage Inn Bed and Breakfast in Coupeville has been owned by David and Maggie Bailey since June 2021. The Anchorage Inn hosts guests from all over the country and the world. Maggie was in the Navy, seven years active duty and four years reserve. David was in the Marine Corps for 20 years.
David said the Marines helped him learn how to be resourceful and helped him in everything he does in the civilian world.
“You’re always trying to figure out how to solve problems, but with few resources,” Maggie said. “You have to have a wide variety of skills, so you develop a wide range of skill sets that in the civilian world, you just don’t have to have that reliance.”
The couple said they’ve noticed a decent amount of Anchorage Inn’s guests happen to be veterans, something they learn while sharing stories over the breakfast table.
“They sit at the table and we serve them and that gives us an opportunity to meet our guests and that’s where we do a lot of our connecting,” Maggie said. “It’s fun.”
Thrive Community Fitness is a gym in Oak Harbor. It has been owned by Shane Johnson since January of this year. He served in the Air Force for seven years.
When asked if his military background helped him in the business world he responded, “100% yes, totally.”
He used the G.I. Bill to get his business degree and personal training certifications, which he said got his foot in the door at Thrive because he started out as a trainer there.
“It taught me leadership, it taught me accountability, integrity, attention to detail,” Johnson said.
He said in the Oak Harbor area, being able to connect with other veterans is extremely valuable, and the fact that the gym is veteran-owned “speaks volumes.” He estimates at least 50% of Thrive’s members are military or veterans.
“It’s nice to be able to communicate, interact with those people, and we also have a lot of veteran employees,” he said.
Johnson said he couldn’t think of any disadvantages to being a veteran-owned business and that he would encourage any veteran to take advantage of the G.I. Bill to pursue their dream.