New TABC program pairs veterans who want to start an alcohol business with vets who already have

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission will announce a new mentorship program Tuesday to pair up military veterans who want to start an alcohol-related business with veterans who already have.

The Empowering Texas Veterans initiative is a statewide program, “connecting manufacturers with manufacturers, retailers with retailers, and so on,” said TABC spokesman Chris Porter.

The agency expects dozens of prospective business owners to take advantage of the program in the first year. Veterans can receive help to navigate local, state and federal laws, work through regulatory paperwork and get general business advice from fellow veterans who’ve gone through it already.

Hi Sign Brewing’s founder, Marine veteran Mark Phillippe, is one of the first mentors to sign on to TABC’s new veterans initiative. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

In Austin, Mark Phillippe, founder of Hi Sign Brewing, is one of the first veteran owners to sign on as a mentor.

“I think that veterans have that inherent understanding and resolve to kind of work together with other people to achieve something that’s a common goal,” Phillippe said.

Phillippe started the brewery off of SH 71 and US 183 in southeast Austin in 2017, a shift from his path of working on political campaigns in central Texas prior to 2009.

“I joined the Marine Corps, and got out, and realized that I wanted to spend my life doing something I really enjoyed doing rather than just kind of grinding it out,” he said.

Attending to the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver after returning from Afghanistan, he said, “there was this feeling of affirmation.”

Phillippe was fortunate to connect with a longtime brewer and fellow Marine in California who helped him work through the process of starting the craft brewery.

He doesn’t have a protégé through the TABC program yet, but he hopes he can provide the same level of support to a veteran who wants to break into the industry.

Big business

The alcohol industry in Texas, which includes manufacturers, distributors and retailers, rakes in some $40 billion annually, according to the TABC, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

About 250 alcohol-related businesses in the state reported to the regulatory agency that they’re veteran-owned, Porter said, but TABC has only collected the information since 2017.

Hi Sign Brewing employee Joey Panarese walks around kegs in the brewery on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

The actual number of vet-owned companies is likely higher, and “we expect that number, obviously, to keep growing as people renew their permits and they can identify on their paperwork,” Porter said.

TABC expects to pair dozens of veterans with business owners in the first year of the program, and potentially hundreds in the coming years.

The first mentor and protégé are from the Gulf Coast. Mark Henry, founder of Galveston Bay Beer and the Galveston County judge, will mentor an up-and-comer who will be introduced during Tuesday’s program announcement at Hi Sign Brewing.

TABC is working with the Texas Veterans Commission, the Secretary of State’s office, the state comptroller, and the Texas Workforce Commission to ensure there are “no wrong doors” for veterans looking to get their start, Porter said.

Veterans and alcohol

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports 1-in-10 veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan has an alcohol problem.

More than a quarter of veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also diagnosed with a substance use disorder, the veterans agency finds.

Asked about the steps TABC takes to ensure it’s not encouraging veterans struggling with alcohol to pursue a new business in the industry, Porter said the regulator uses the same means as it does for any other applicant.

TABC screens license-seekers for alcohol problems by, for example, performing background checks. That’s one reason of many the agency can deny a license.

Porter also said TABC makes resources available for all prospective and current business owners on serving legally and responsibly.

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