States and cities around the country are ramping up their efforts to attract military retirees, whose presence can be good for the local economy.
For decades, states and cities have competed against each other to attract factories, corporate headquarters, and other projects that they hope will bring in money and jobs.
Now, they're also trying to make themselves more attractive to military retirees, who also can have a positive effect on an area's economy. Retired service members come with government pensions, their health care is paid for by the VA, and some stay in the workforce after leaving the military.
"They're more likely to be self-supporting, self-sufficient, and able to support the local economy as well," said Air Force retiree Ed Drohan, who now works at the VA in Tampa.
More than a dozen states have passed laws exempting military pensions from state taxes – as they try to lure retired service members. Several cities, including Norfolk, Virginia and San Antonio, Texas, employ military liaisons whose jobs include outreach to retirees. And some states are rushing to provide other benefits to people who've retired from the armed forces.
"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 Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at a business conference last year. "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 - already one of the nation's leading retirement destinations - has been especially aggressive in recruiting military retirees. 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.
When Daryl Manning 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," said Manning, now a judge in Hillsborough County, Florida. "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."
Job programs target younger retirees
Florida is also among the states with programs to help military retirees transition into new careers.
Compared with other retirees, people who retire from the military are often younger. Service members typically can retire after twenty years of service and collect 50 percent of their salary for the rest of their lives. Those who serve longer than twenty years receive a higher payout.
"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," said Jill Gonzalez, an analyst with the personal finance website, WalletHub. "Many times they have to go back into the civilian workforce."
In 2015, Florida created a grant program that reimburses businesses for half of their training costs for every veteran hired up to $8,000 per employee. The state also started an entrepreneurship program just for veterans.
The Veterans Florida entrepreneurship program helped persuade 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. "When I decided where I should retire to, I chose my last assignment as Tampa, Florida MacDill Air Force Base, so it naturally fit."
Neil started his own business with some of his Green Beret buddies. They're getting ready to open the American Freedom Distillery in St. Petersburg. 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 - second only to Texas. That means more than $5 billion in military pensions are coming into the Sunshine State every year.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.