During National Small Business Week it's important to recognize that small businesses are the backbone of the economy -- they employ half the people in America and create two out of every three new jobs. Small businesses play a critical role in helping our economy, but to stay competitive they need access to a motivated, flexible and skilled workforce.
Over the past five years I've had the privilege of meeting veterans across the country and abroad. These are men and women who have led troops in battle, worked in high pressure situations and who can bring unique skills to our workforce. But veterans and military spouses often struggle to find jobs.
Through initiatives like Joining Forces, First Lady Michelle Obama and I are working to bring together public-private partnerships to support America's veterans. Last year we kicked off a private sector challenge: hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. We were so proud that businesses answered the call -- in fact, last month we announced that businesses have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses.
But there's still more work to be done and that's where great small business owners like John Stonecipher make a big difference. John is President and CEO of Guidance Aviation, a helicopter pilot training facility in Prescott, Arizona. Guidance Aviation currently employs 55 people... and nearly 50 percent of them are veterans. In 1998, John started with one helicopter and one employee. By 2009 he grew to 34 employees, six of whom were veterans. And by 2012, he had 55 employees and 24 were veterans.
John's dedication to our veterans goes beyond employment. John noticed a large demand for vocational training by veterans returning to civilian life. He worked with Yavapai College, as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Aviation Administration, to create an Associate of Applied Science Professional Helicopter Pilot Degree Program; 85 percent of his students are veterans.
John's found a niche as a business owner: he's using his expertise and love of flying to create a growing company, but his reliance on and commitment to the veteran community has become a business best practice. I'm proud to say that because of this, John Stonecipher is 2013's National Small Business Owner of the Year! Congratulations!
Whether you have one employee or 100, small business owners across the country can follow John's lead by turning to veterans to help them grow and serve their customers.