Keith Drays, a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1989 to 1990, says his military experience helped him succeed in college, and eventually, landed him a job at the Hormel Foods production and shipping plant in Beloit.
"The values the Army instilled in me, I've used that in the work environment," he said.
There are others like Drays at Hormel. And on Tuesday, Reggie Newson, secretary of Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development, formally commended the company for its impressive track record of hiring veterans. He presented a plaque on behalf of Gov. Scott Walker, paid compliments to Hormel and encouraged other Wisconsin businesses to hire men and women who have served in the military.
"Hormel gets it," he said, stating that former military members are natural leaders with heightened interpersonal skills, not to mention, an unquestionable sense of discipline and well-trained appreciation for systems of hierarchy. "All those things make Hormel more productive and help its bottom line. And it's just the right thing to do."
The food company, which produces grocery store staples like canned chili and corned beef hash at its Beloit facility, employs about 250 at its location at 3000 Kennedy Drive in the I-90 Industrial park.
Of its workforce, 32 individuals, or about 13 percent, served in a branch of the U.S. military, said Plant Manager Scott Ramlo.
"We're very proud of them as veterans and Hormel employees," Ramlo said, addressing a gathering of about 30 employees.
He too, believes individuals benefit from training in the Army, Navy, Air Force or any other division of military. Although Hormel does not have any immediate hiring plans, "when we do, we want to look at the applicant's qualities closely," Ramlo said.
Hormel's veteran employees have proven themselves to be "self starters" and are generally "pleasant to be around," Ramlo said, slipping into a story about a 38-year worker who never leaves home without his wartime service ball cap.
Across the country, young veterans, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have had trouble finding work upon coming home. In fact, of those who served some time after September 2001, the unemployment rate was 11.5 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's more than two percentage points higher than unemployment figures for the general population at that time.
Here in the Stateline Area, military figures are similar, and in Beloit, general unemployment is among the state's highest.
But Newson said the state's jobs situation is slowly and steadily improving.
"We're moving in the right direction in terms of jobs in Wisconsin," he said.
The Department of Workforce Development will increase the number of job fairs it hosts two-fold in 2012, he said, stating that the department's overall goal is connecting employers with suitable employees. Those looking to hire should look for veterans, he said.