Knoxville, Tenn. – Randall Mitchell could be the poster child for the newly formed Tennessee Veterans Business Association (TVBA). His story consists of patriotism, determination and, well, cheese.
Mitchell served out his four year Navy stint despite a crushed hand he suffered in 1992 off the coast of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in an accident aboard the destroyer USS Peterson.
Mitchell always had a thing about making interesting cheeses – even during his time as a sailor.
After the military, he held a variety of jobs – first at a paper mill, then several years as a mechanic. On the side, though, he made and sold cheese and dreamed of someday owning a business.
Finally, in 2007, he met Dr. Steve Koplow, a Sevierville, Tennessee pediatric dentist, who saw untapped potential in Randall — and a market for the “No Bull Beer Cheese Spread with Attitude™“ he was making. Koplow became Mitchell’s business partner.
After only 10 months in business, the, Sevierville, Tennessee-based Smoky Mountain Cheese has landed contracts with such clients as the Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J travel centers and grocery chains Food City, Save-A-Lot, Super Value, Wise Markets, HEB (Texas) and Basche’s (Arizona). Smoky Mountain Cheese is moving to a new production facility, expanding its product lines and in early 2011 will have its cheeses shipped to military bases overseas.
This is not an overnight success story. Mitchell has spent years researching how to set up a business.
Even during more than a dozen hospitalizations due to an inherited arterial problem that threatened the use of his legs, he never stopped researching how to market his product and how to keep startup costs low. “I would be in the ICU, all hooked up to tubes, and have my wife bring my cell phone and laptop so I could keep working,” he said.
Early on, he got help from local and state economic development officials, sought business advice wherever he could find it, and carefully studied federal laws like Executive Order 13-360, which improves contracting opportunities for service disabled, veteran-owned small businesses like his.
“Randall Mitchell is a perfect example of the skills and determination veterans have when they re-enter the civilian workforce,” says TVBA President Jonathan Williams. “They understand hard work and discipline.”
“In the final analysis, though, it’s the quality of these folks’ goods and services that makes them so outstanding in the business world,” Williams said. “He’s creating jobs and has a promising business future.”
The TVBA now connects folks like Mitchell with business opportunities.
As its first official event, TVBA will hold a Veteran Owned Business Vendor Day and Veteran Preferred Job Fair on Tuesday, January 25th in Knoxville at Rothchild’s Conference Center at 8807 Kingston Pike in West Knoxville. Doors open at 8 a.m. for networking, with the job fair beginning at 10 a.m. There is no admission charge. The event concludes at 4 p.m. The night before, TVBA is holding an opening reception with keynote speakers at 5 p.m. That event will also take place at Rothchild’s.
The goal of TVBA, according to Williams, is to “gives vets a chance to become valuable contributors to the free market, democratic system they have defended.”
Details and registration are available at the Tennessee Veteran’s Business Association website, www.jointvba.org or by calling Williams at 865/332-4476 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
So far, sponsors for the Veteran Owned Business Vendor Day and Veteran Preferred Job Fair include the Knoxville Chamber Partners, EngerX LLC, Xcel Engineering, Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces, Merle FM, The Veteran Next Door Radio Program, VR Habilis, Harrison Construction, ES&H Inc, LB Services, Pro Forms, Inc., Power Equipment Company, High Resolutions Inc., Diverse Green and Regions Bank.
Organizations registered so far include Covenant Health, B&W Y-12, Oak Ridge National Lab, University of Tennessee, Roane State, Pellissippi State, Lincoln Memorial University, University of Phoenix, Volunteers of America, Air Force Sergeants Association, and TN Veterans Memorial Association.