When Joe Taylor took a job in government contracting, his boss quickly sent him to work in the Washington, D.C., office. Most people won't be surprised at that: D.C. is where deals get done, where contractors take in their government fees.
But that didn't really suit ex-Air Force Capt. Taylor. "Being in D.C. afforded a lot of opportunity for networking. It allowed me to grow, but it is expensive and it is crowded," said Taylor, a sales vice president with Cobham AvComm, a job he landed through placement firm Bradley-Morris.
Fortunately for him, it's a myth that all contractor jobs are in D.C. and northern Virginia. Taylor transferred to Kansas City, Missouri, last year, part of a vast population of military contractors working outside the capital area.
Outside the Beltway
Veterans are drawn to contracting for a variety of reasons, including a chance to continue service and a sense of familiarity in the culture of government contracting firms, as they work in close cooperation with their military customers.
Despite popular perception, a vast number of such jobs exist outside the D.C. area, according to recent data from the job site MilitaryHire.com.
Looking at hires among the five largest military contractors on the job site, co-founder and partner Sean Pritchard found that only 45 percent of the jobs are in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Forty percent of the jobs were in 10 other states (see below). Every state had some jobs, with the exception of Montana and Wyoming.
"They tend to sell inside the Beltway because that is where the money is, but they fulfill all over the country," said Peter Gudmundsson, president and CEO of RecruitMilitary.
Virtually all the site's 560 contractors have some work outside Washington. "They support active-duty forces and those by and large are not in the D.C. area. So those contracts are being fulfilled in the field, far from headquarters," he said.
Consider contractor Battelle, a major player with some 3,600 employees including 2,100 in (drumroll, please) Ohio. In addition to operations at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the company works at military bases in Texas, Florida, Colorado and Kentucky.
Its employees are destroying mustard gas and chemical weapons in Pueblo, Colorado and Richmond, Kentucky.
"The biggest determining factor for most candidates is quality of life, the school systems in a given area. If the military individual can figure out what is important to them, Battelle can usually match that to one of our locations," said Lindsey Lappin, senior recruiter and military adviser.
Taking a job far from the contracting epicenter won't cost you career points. You can take a position in Florida or Texas, "and as long as they continue to be mobile and able to change locations again, there will always be more opportunity for advancement and growth," Lappin said.
Good people, anywhere
One of the nation's biggest contractors, Honeywell, said location is scarcely a consideration.
With 127,000 people and 420 sites nationwide, the company has hired over 1,700 veterans since 2011. It is based in New Jersey with hubs in Phoenix and Minneapolis.
"From Honeywell's perspective, we are looking to hire good people in our open positions, which are all over the country," said staffing director Alan Bernstein. "It's less about being in D.C. or anywhere else, and more about what you can do at Honeywell and how we can help you build your career."
The hubs tend to hire for corporate positions, while other facilities seek a range of skills, including field service technicians, supply chain supervisors, engineers and production operations supervisors.
For those looking to land in a particular location, Bernstein encourages a deep look at the company's own hiring page, which can be sorted according to a range of criteria including location. "You really get to manage your application process, and that lets you laser in on a specific area," he said.
Hiring managers offer another tip for those looking to land somewhere specific: Make your preference known on your résumé or cover letter. Indicate your location of interest or, at the very least, note that you are willing to relocate.
Employers win, too
While veterans may be looking to get into contracting in various locales, contractors say they often win precisely by virtue of staying some distance away from the D.C. area.
Being outside the Beltway "lends us credibility when we are looking for work. People recognize that D.C. is an insular culture and that people there tend to think in a 'D.C.' kind of way," said Benjamin Bryant, president of the communications contracting firm Bryant Zamberlan Group.
That company's headquarters is in Richmond, Virginia — a choice that has given Bryant a hiring edge. In his effort to recruit veterans, "it gives us a much wider pool. We can tap into veterans who are not in the midst of the Washington game, not part of that wheel where the same buzzwords go around and around," he said.
Hiring veterans from outside D.C. has brought up the quality of his bids. "In D.C., you end up with a lot of homogeneity. You read [proposals] from the folks who are always bidding and they all start to sound the same. By relying on this vast knowledge among military veterans who aren't part of that system, our proposals got simpler, they got right to the point," he said.
Dan Loesch turned to contracting for all the usual reasons.
"I knew that I wanted to do something that mattered, I wanted to be able to give back to a cause, and I wanted something in a solid field, where I wouldn't have to worry if I could get a job," said Loesch, a former Army sergeant and 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper.
"I wanted to see if I could get into some kind of engineering that was still involved with the military. I didn't know what there was, but then I found this kind of contracting that would still be serving a part of the military," he said.
Loesch left service in 2009 and now is a Battelle research associate back home in Columbus, Ohio.
"When I joined the military, I was ready to go explore the world, and by the time my four years were done I missed Ohio. I was ready to come back," he said.
"Now I get to have that happy medium between having the city and my work life, and the hometown and my family life an hour away."
For Taylor, meanwhile, life on the plains means he can get to the airport 15 minutes before his flight, instead of two hours.
"There is quite a lot of defense-related work in the Midwest," he said. "It's true that D.C. is the seat of power, but a lot of the ideas start in other parts of the country." And that's where a lot of the jobs are, too.
Where the jobs are
According to MilitaryHire.com, 40 percent of government contracting jobs are in 10 states: