Hampton Roads Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone launches in Norfolk

By Sandra J. Pennecke

Unemployment and underemployment are two problems that military spouses often have to contend with as they support their significant other’s career.

According to a report by the U.S. Chamber Foundation, 16 percent of military spouses face unemployment which is four times higher than the national average.

The Hampton Roads Chamber, the Hampton Roads Workforce Council, and the Veterans Employment Center have partnered together to try to combat that issue.

The trio launched the Hampton Roads Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone at the Hampton Roads Veterans Employment Center at 861 Glenrock Road in Norfolk on Oct. 10. Appointments are available and walk-ins are also accepted.

“It’s really about connecting the resources that we have in the community, especially around our Veterans Employment Center, to the military spouse population,” said Shawn Avery, the workforce council’s president and CEO. “They’re already one of our targeted customers we try to work with, but this will give us more of a streamlined process as we try to connect with the military spouses and connect them to employment and education opportunities in the area.”

Avery said it is similar to what they’ve already been doing for transitioning service members at the Veterans Employment Center, but the empowerment zone will focus specifically on military spouses.

“Military spouses’ unemployment is a lot higher than just the traditional civilian unemployment or even the military’s transitioning service member unemployment,” Avery said. “We want to provide them with almost a one-stop shop for all the resources that are available.”

Avery said since some certifications do not cross state lines they want to figure out the best way to help with that, too.

“We’ll work with them to try to figure out how can we can quickly get them back into the workforce, determine what their needs are and put programs in place to meet those needs,” he said.

The free program, which launched in February, is part of Hiring Our Heroes, a nationwide initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which was established in 2011, to help veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.

Hampton Roads will be the seventh zone location. The others are in San Antonio, Texas; Tampa, Florida; Colorado Springs, Colorado; San Diego, California; and Olympia and Spokane, Washington.

“This hopefully will bring together additional partners that we might not have known were out there or it will bring together the resources of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some of the best practices that they’ve learned across the country as they’ve launched this effort,” Avery said. “We’re looking forward to adding another resource to the community.”