Veterans find security at real estate firm

Betty Dillard   The job picture for veterans is looking a little brighter. The unemployment rate for veterans dropped last year, according to a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Vets still lag behind non-vets in the job market – veterans’ unemployment is 9.9 percent compared with 7.9 percent for nonveterans, the March report said – but a Fort Worth-based private security company is helping get some of those jobless veterans back in the workforce. Lackland Security LLC launched just before Memorial Day last May. With a salute to veterans, the rapidly expanding company is building an army of trained, qualified security specialists. Twenty of the 22 current employees are men and women who served in the U.S. military. Creating job opportunities for veterans is part of the company’s business strategy, says Tim Fleet. The 53-year-old real estate developer is president and founder of both the security company and its parent, Lackland Holdings LLC. The company buys underperforming loans on consumer and commercial real estate, and it either revitalizes the properties into income-producing assets or completes the foreclosure process. Fleet, a native of Fort Worth, graduated from Culver Military Academy in 1977 and obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Texas in 1980. That same year, he began working at his family-owned real estate business, which was established in 1944. As supervisor of the home building division, Fleet directed the construction of more than 900 homes. “I’ve been in real estate all my life. It’s what we talked about around the dinner table every night,” he said. In 1991, Fleet left the family enterprise and formed Lackland Holdings. Working with the Resolution Trust Corp. and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the company closed on more than 30 deals over six years. In the last 10 years, the company has bought and sold about 1,500 foreclosures in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. To date, Lackland Holdings and its affiliates have completed more than 120 real estate developments in the Metroplex. Projects include subdivisions, single-family homes, mobile home parks, shopping centers and other commercial properties with total assets of more than $100 million. The company also builds affordable houses in the $95,000-$150,000 range through its LongTide Homes division in Texas and Louisiana. About six years ago, Fleet started acquiring distressed apartment complexes. Security was needed for the complexes but the security companies that Lackland Holdings hired weren’t getting the job done. He decided his company could do a better job with an in-house security division and it could be staffed with wartime veterans who needed jobs and had the required skills. “We thought it would be a good combination to hire returning veterans for our security company,” Fleet said. “They have a lot more experience. They are better qualified. They’ve served our country and are coming back to a less than stellar job market. It seemed like a good opportunity to put those people to work for us. People coming out of the military is our preference.” Todd Greenfield, Lackland Holdings’ project manager, served nearly 10 years as an officer with the 49th Armored Division of the U.S. Army National Guard. His experience includes working private security for a prominent local family. “Tim came to me long before Lackland Security was formed and said he’d like to hire veterans in general in other areas of our organization,” Greenfield said. “It wasn’t until we thought we could do a better job of security in-house that we really began to hire more veterans. Being a veteran myself, I saw it was a great opportunity to help my fellow veteran brothers and sisters. It was great timing with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as well.” Greenfield found Chris Gebhardt, now Lackland’s security manager, and other applicants through the Texas Veterans Commission. Partnering with the Texas Workforce Commission, the veterans commission helps out-of-work veterans find civilian jobs. Texas is home to more than 1.7 million veterans, and the state leads the nation in veterans’ employment . Texas Veterans Commission job counselors helped more than 34,038 veterans find a job in 2010. Gebhardt, who handles Lackland Security’s day-to-day operations, served with the 302nd Military Police Co. in Grand Prairie. He has been deployed a couple of times and also has worked private security jobs on the side. He said the company benefits from both the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a federal tax credit available to employers who hire and retain veterans with barriers to employment, and the TWC’s Texas Back to Work program, which gives Texas employers wage incentives for hiring unemployed workers. Lackland Security provides training, equipment and uniforms and has expanded its services to outside clients, including banks and shopping centers. Gebhardt credits the company’s rapid growth to its veterans. “It’s absolutely been helpful for the company to grow because we hire veterans. We’re proud of that fact,” Gebhardt said. “There’s an assumed level of quality when you hire military veterans. They’re hard working and dedicated and disciplined. It’s all the qualities you need in security.” Bryan Connerly is one of Lackland Security’s success stories. He got out of the Army in 2010 and was unemployed for more than a year before being referred to Lackland Security. He’s moved up from being a security officer to sales and marketing. “I had a lot of trouble finding good work,” Connerly said. “I went back to school to get my degree in [information technology]. I thought I was doing the right thing and had the right plan for me. Being a veteran and having just returned from Iraq in my corner I thought would be a great help but IT people aren’t looking for that. “There are a lot of really self-motivated people in the military who want to hit the ground running when they get back home but, like me, have a lot of trouble finding good work,” he said. Greenfield said Lackland Security was the No. 1 employer for hiring vets last year, according to the Texas Veterans Commission. The company is a candidate for the commission’s Employer of the Year and has been nominated for an American Legion award. “We’re providing a very good product for our clients,” Fleet said. “We’re getting our name out and have gotten great feedback. We’re always looking for a good real estate deal – and for veterans returning home who need a good job in security.”