January 5, 2013

Government contracting offers options for veterans

Christian Grau believes he has found his next big thing.

Christian Grau believes he has found his next big thing.

Grau sustained injuries during his Army training and service in Iraq in 2003, 2004 and again in 2005. He served as a staff sergeant in the Second Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, which is part of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Grau was never wounded but did suffer a concussion and wear and tear from combat and hard training, he said.

His disabilities aren’t obvious, he said. He suffers short-term memory loss, has some difficulty in conversation and with post-traumatic stress disorder, and deals with damaged knees and a shoulder.

“I don’t like to talk about it,” he said. “I don’t want a pity party. I don’t have any missing limbs or anything.”

He left the military in 2006 and moved to Wichita to be with family.

Since then, he has experienced the hazards of civilian life. He was laid off from Cox Communications after four years as a field technician after his department was consolidated with another.

He loved his job and the company, but he wasn’t completely unhappy with the layoff because he had already started thinking about starting a business.

“I took it as a sign from God to try this,” he said.

He got the necessary certifications to offer home inspection and started Grau Inspections in March.

Grau is one of many veterans who have started businesses, many of which become government contractors, said Ross Draney, subcenter director for Heartland Procurement Technical Assistance Center, who is based in Wichita.

Draney said the federal government sets aside a percentage of federal contracts for veteran-owned businesses. Draney’s job is to help businesses, especially small ones, navigate the government contracting system.

“If you’re a vet, and you have interest in starting a business, government work is something you’re used to and might have in the back of your mind,” Draney said.

For those not interested in government contract work, Draney recommends starting with the Small Business Development Center at Wichita State University.

Grau says he’s learned to accommodate his physical disabilities in his business. For example, he takes extensive notes to guard against memory loss, and he babies his bad knees and shoulder. He largely works alone, which cuts down on the chances of being mentally overwhelmed.

But his disabilities have also provided a bit of a hand up – Veterans Affairs paid for training, some marketing materials and an infrared camera – although he describes the work required to get the money as “pulling teeth.”

He paid for his truck himself.

Grau is a direct contractor for AMS, one of the contractors that handles foreclosures of houses with mortgages from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

About three-quarters of his business are inspections of HUD homes, where he looks for plumbing leaks, checks the wiring and water pressure, and grades the condition of the roof, among the other items that make up a home inspection.

He likes the home inspection business because of the stability of the market, the independence of the work and the fact that it keeps him close to construction work.

“With all of my disabilities, I can’t do construction; it’d kill me,” he said. “This is a way I can do it, without really doing it.”

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