By By Bill O’Boyle, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Allen Raczkowski wants to create the world’s largest youth wrestling facility in Wilkes-Barre and the Army veteran is looking for ideas on where to seek help.
That’s why Raczkowski and 19 other military veterans attended Thursday’s “Operation Boots to Business” program at the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce’s THINK Center.
The day-long event was sponsored by the Chamber and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Lindsey Bezick, vice president at the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce, said the program was part of the Chamber’s Connect initiative. She said the information provided to the veterans will help them on their path to opening a business.
“And we will follow up with all of the veterans to provide help and answer any question they might have,” Bezick said. “All of their names and information will be placed in our database.”
Raczkowski said he has already secured space at 237 Old River Road for his wrestling training center — the Altered Beasts Wrestling Academy — and he hopes to have the building renovated in time for an October opening.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a decline in the number of champion wrestlers from this area,” said Raczkowski, of Mountain Top. “We hope to be able to provide the top-level training for young people who want to learn how to wrestle.”
Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration as part of the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. The program provides participants with an overview of business ownership and is open to transitioning service members (including National Guard and Reserve) and their spouses.
Shannon Degiglio, lender relations and economic development specialist for SBA, said Thursday’s program was the first Boots to Business event in the Wilkes-Barre area. She said there is no cost to the veterans for the program designed to help them pursue entrepreneurship as they transfer to civilian life.
Degiglio said Boots to Business is regarded as one way to combat the high unemployment rate seen among returning veterans as compared to the rest of the population. Last year, Degiglio said the veteran unemployment rate was at 9 percent — down from the previous year by nearly a full percent, according to Reuters.
“Veterans tend to make excellent business owners,” Degiglio said. “They are able to apply the skill sets they learn in the military and transfer them to business ownership.”
Degiglio said veterans have the determination, discipline and a never-give-up attitude needed to be successful in business.
“Veterans are used to getting up early to go to work,” Degiglio said. “That is a key trait for a successful businessperson.”
Elizabeth Lewis drove to Wilkes-Barre from Philadelphia for the program. Lewis, a chef at a shelter for women and children, wants to open a high-end pastry shop that specializes in takeout orders and has an eat-in pastry bar.
“I wanted to come here and be with people who share the same things I want,” Lewis said. “I want to learn everything I can to open my business and be successful.”