States are competitive whether they’re vying to keep their military bases or to attract new corporate headquarters. And now, there’s a new tug of war over military retirees who come with pensions, health care and are a proven workforce.
Florida, already a retirement haven, is adding veteran specific programs to entice even more military retirees to the Sunshine State.
"It means that if you are processing out of the military and you want to build your business here in Florida – we’re going to waive the application fees on almost every occupational license that’s out there," said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at a business conference last year. "It means if you’re applying for a concealed weapons license, you’re going to go to the front of the line and it’s going to be expedited in less than two weeks."
Florida officials like to brag that they’re the most veteran friendly state in the nation. So, there’s no ambivalence – if you’re retiring military – Florida Wants You!
That message was not lost on Hillsborough County Judge Daryl Manning when he retired after 30 years of service in the Army and Reserves. He settled in Tampa, his final post, over other places he’d served like Fort Bragg, Fort Hood and Norfolk.
"Of course, it’s the beautiful weather. It’s also the military climate that’s here. Not only for active duty military but for retirees, the community is so welcoming that it was hard not to be a part of it," Manning said.
In Florida, there’s no state income tax, so no tax on military pensions. And because the state has 20 military installations, retirees have easy access to on-base amenities like golf courses, health clubs, and tax-free shopping.
More than a dozen other states have passed laws exempting military pensions from state taxes – as they too try to lure retired service members.
"Just the idea there’s a steady income. They know there’s that pension coming in," said Air Force retiree Ed Drohan who came to Tampa to work at James A. Haley VA. "They’re more likely to be self-supporting, self-sufficient and able to support the local economy as well."
Not only are military retirees often more self-sufficient - they’re often younger.
"I think a lot of people don’t know or don’t realize that the average officer is only 45 years old upon retirement from service So many times they have to go back into the civilian workforce," said Jill Gonzalez is an analyst with the personal finance website, WalletHub. She wrote a study on the best places for service members to retire which ranked Florida at the top in 2017.
And Florida has made it a priority to help military retirees and veterans find a second career. Lawmakers created a grant program that reimburses businesses for half of their training costs for every veteran hired up to $8,000 per employee. And the state also started an entrepreneurship program just for veterans.
The Veterans Florida entrepreneurship program is one reason that persuaded former Green Beret Scott Neil, a recent retiree, to resettle in his native Florida.
"I was one of the first into Afghanistan, then to Iraq and then Africa. So I’ve been around the world," Neil said. "And luckily for me, the headquarters of Special Operations is in Tampa when I decided where I should retire to, I chose my last assignment as Tampa, Florida MacDill Air Force Base so it naturally fit."
Another natural fit for Neil was starting his own business with some of his Green Beret buddies. They’re getting ready to open the American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg where construction is almost complete. Neil completed Florida's entrepreneurship program which he says built a sense of community with other Florida vets.
"All the alumni, we continue to get together and talk about how far are you with your great idea and we motivate each other," Neil said.
A Department of Defense report from last year shows more than 198,000 military retirees live in Florida - that’s second only to Texas. That means more than $5 billion in military pensions are coming into the Sunshine State every year.