NerdWallet’s Top Metro Areas for Veterans

Marines march in 2011 NYC Veterans Day Parade

With Memorial Day coming up this weekend, NerdWallet wanted to salute our armed forces by looking at the best metropolitan areas for veterans. We wanted to find the areas with excellent support systems for veterans easing back into civilian life.

NerdWallet calculated the best metros for veterans by answering the following questions:

  1. Are there opportunities for veterans? We looked the overall unemployment of rate of the metro areas as well as the ratio of unemployed vets compared to the rest of the population to see if job prospects were good.
  2. Is there peer support? We analyzed veterans as a percentage of the population to see if there was social support for veterans. We also looked at the percentage of veteran-owned businesses, both completely and partially-owned, to see if there were opportunities to work with other veterans.
  3. Is the economy doing well? We looked at the percentage of job growth from February 2012 to February 2013 to see if there was job growth. We also looked at the affordability of the metro area as indicated by the median household spending per month.

Top 5 Large Cities

1. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC Metro Area

Virginia Beach is home to several military bases like the Navy’s NAS Oceana and Training support Center Hampton Roads, so it should come as no surprise that it is a top metro area for veterans. Virginia Beach has excellent job prospects, with low unemployment rates amongst veterans. While the average unemployment rate nationwide is 7.5%, Virginia Beach’s unemployment rate among veterans is a mere 5%. This should come as no surprise as 20% of its businesses are veteran-owned.

There are plenty of programs in Virginia Beach tailored for veterans. Tidewater Community College has a Center for Military and Veterans Education with academic programs tailored for military and veterans. Old Dominion University provides distance-learning classes with credits given for military training and experience. Centura College provides special veteran representatives to help veterans with admissions, financial aid and to apply for veteran benefits. With veterans consisting 18% of Virginia Beach’s population and a top-rated Hampton VA Medical Center, there should be no lack of support for veterans.

2. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA Metro Area

Riverside has a strong military culture, home to the March Joint Air Reserve Base, one of the oldest airfields operated by the military, a leading military college prep school, Riverside Military Academy and to a VA National Cemetery. Riverside is also one of the most affordable large cities, with the lowest median household spending per month of all the large Californian cities.

University of California Riverside and the Riverside Community College district provides their veteran students with priority enrollment into classes as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs educational benefits. The Loma Linda Healthcare system, which provides health care to veterans in southern California, is only 15 minutes away. With a veteran population of 8%, Riverside provides a thriving military culture.

3. San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA Metro Area

San Diego may surprise you by appearing so high on this list, but don’t let its beach culture fool you. San Diego is a military town, with the only major submarine and shipbuilding yards on the West Coast, and hosts the largest naval fleet in the world.

San Diego is currently seeing a growth in its biotech and health care industries, with a fairly high growth in job rates from 2012 to 2013. San Diego also has a large population of vets, with almost 20,000 in the metropolitan area, and almost 14% of San Diego’s businesses are run by vets.

Major schools in the area like San Diego State University, San Diego Miramar College, San Diego Mesa College and the University of San Diego have Veteran Centers to provide support for veterans returning to school. University of California San Diego hosts the VA hospital for the San Diego area.

4. Las Vegas-Paradise, NV Metro Area

One of the largest Air Force bases, Nellis Air Force Base, is located about 7 miles away from Las Vegas. It’s no wonder Sin City sees so many veterans move there. Las Vegas is very affordable, amongst the top 5 most affordable large cities in America. Additionally, there is a high population of veterans living there – almost 10% of the population consists of veterans, and nearly 15% of businesses are veteran-owned.

There are many local resources available to veterans, including the Southern Nevada Healthcare System, with a VA Hospital located in North Las Vegas. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, provides many resources for veterans looking to get an education in their Office of Veteran Services, which is staffed with veterans the GI Bill experience staff. There is also a Student Veterans & Military Family Services Committee dedicated to providing a veteran-friendly campus, including veteran benefits help, a disability resource center, psychological services and community resources.  Additionally, the College of Southern Nevada provides a veteran’s educational center to help process veteran benefits and work with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

5. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX Metro Area

The Naval Air Station Fort Worth JRB is stationed just 5 miles away from the Fort Worth downtown, and its military presence can be felt throughout the metropolis. Dallas-Fort Worth has a low unemployment rate for veterans at only 6.3% and high job growth. While the veteran population is not has high as some other cities, at only 8%, a significant proportion own businesses, with veterans owning nearly 14% of all businesses in the region. The VA North Texas Health Care System serves Dallas-Fort Worth, and there is a location right in Dallas proper.

Dallas-Fort Worth’s higher education institutions are friendly and flexible towards military veterans. University of Texas Dallas offers academic course credit for military veterans who enroll. The University of Dallas has a Veteran Representative that assists the veteran in obtaining military benefits and financial aid. Columbia College in Fort Worth is especially geared toward veterans, offering transfer credit for CCAF, SMART and other military training as well as providing Veterans Administration approved courses of study.

 

Top 5 Medium Cities

1. Jacksonville, FL Metro Area

Jacksonville is defined as a port area, with the Port of Jacksonville, the third largest seaport in Florida, and two Naval bases. With the third largest naval presence in the country, behind Virginia Beach and San Diego, Jacksonville provides a great atmosphere for retiring military personnel.

14% of Jacksonville’s population consists of veterans, and they own 17% of all businesses in Jacksonville. Jacksonville University helps veterans reintegrate as a member of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program. Florida State College has a separate financial aid program for veterans.

2. Richmond, VA Metro Area

Richmond is known for its long history in law and finance, as the home of one of the 13 U.S. courts and appeals and of one of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks. However, Richmond is also home to many veterans, who make up 9.4% of the population. Richmond boasts a low unemployment rate, at 7.4% and an even lower unemployment rate amongst veterans at 4.9%. There is economic opportunity available for veterans, who own almost 17% of Richmond’s businesses. With resources like the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center near downtown, veterans in Richmond can find all the help they need.

Richmond’s schools provide excellent assistance to veterans. The University of Richmond is part of the Yellow Ribbon Program that provides a maximum of $5,000 each school year that is matched by the Department of Veteran Affairs. J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College guides veteran students through obtaining educational benefits. Virginia Commonwealth University offers a Green Zone Program that helps veterans transition back into student life.

3. Memphis, TN-MS-AR Metro Area

Memphis is in a great centralized location straddling the Midwest and the East Coast. With Fortune 500 companies like FedEx, AutoZone and International Paper settling their headquarters there, it’s easy to see why veterans head to Memphis. Veterans make up almost 10% of the population, but own over 16% of all businesses here. They also boast a lower unemployment rate than the general population. Clearly, Memphis has the environment for veterans to succeed, including a world-class VA Medical Center right in downtown.

The University of Memphis offers a slew of services for its veteran student population, from adult commuter services to child care and psychological counseling. The Southwest Tennessee Community College provies a specialized Veterans Affairs (VA) that provides counseling and outreach to assist veterans in acclimating back to civilian life.

4. Tucson, AZ Metro Area

Tucson’s economy is dominated by the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and For Huachuca, a U.S. Army Intelligence Center, which has led to rise in high-tech industries mainly government contractors. With this sort of economic environment, it’s no wonder Tucson is highly rated as a metropolitan for veterans. It has a fairly low rate of unemployment amongst veterans at only 6.5% and boasts a fairly affordable rate of living. With a whopping 17.2% of all businesses owned by veterans, and a population of nearly 13% veterans, it’s clear that Tucson has amazing resources, including a VA hospital right near downtown.

The University of Arizona, the largest university in the region, really strives to serve this population. The University of Arizona has a Students Vet Center staffed by trained student veterans to help student veterans. Additionally, UA provides a UA Live & Work Connections committed to helping employees that are veterans to provide short-term counseling and transitions back into civilian workforce. Pima Community College provides small perks for its veteran students like separate Veterans Center for veterans to study and relax as well as bookstore vouchers for veterans.

5. Albuquerque, NM Metro Area

Albuquerque, home to the Kirtland Air Force Base, comes in at fifth on our list due to its great job market. Albuquerque’s unemployment is one of the lowest on our list, at just 7.4%, and it’s even lower for veterans, at 5.2%. While veterans only make up 12.1% of the population, they make up 16.9% of the businesses in Albuquerque. With this great support network, a VA Health Care System centered right in Albuquerque and, of course, great weather, its no wonder veterans flock to Albuquerque to settle after their military career.

The many educational facilities in Albuquerque strive to accommodate this population. The University of New Mexico offers a Veterans Resource Center staffed by veterans to help out veterans thinking of returning or starting school. The Central New Mexico Community College has a Vocation Rehabilitation Program designed specifically for veterans with disabilities to return to the workforce.

 

Top Large Metropolitan Areas For Veterans

Large metropolitans were designated as metropolitan areas with populations over 1,000,000.

 

Rank Metro Area Unemployment Rate (%) Unemployment Rate for Veterans (%) Job Growth Median Spending per Household Population of Veterans (%) Businesses owned by Veterans (%) Overall Score
1 Virginia Beach, VA 7% 5% 0.5% 23.7 18.2% 20.2% 64.0
2 Riverside, CA 12.5% 8.5% 0.7% 27.8 8.6% 12.0% 52.1
3 San Diego, CA 8.8% 7.4% 1.6% 20.4 10.6% 13.5% 50.9
4 Las Vegas, NV 10.2% 7.6% -0.6% 26.1 10.6% 15.4% 50.6
5 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX 7.2% 6.3% 1.8% 21.1 8.2% 14.0% 50.5
6 Washington DC 6.2% 3.6% 0.8% 23.2 9.9% 12.9% 49.6
7 Baltimore, MD 7.2% 4.9% 1.4% 22.4 10.5% 13.9% 48.8
8 Houston, TX 7.1% 5.8% 1.9% 20.0 7.3% 13.1% 48.3
9 Tampa, FL 9.8% 9.2% 1.6% 17.5 12.7% 14.8% 48.2
10 Atlanta, GA 9.9% 8.2% 1.0% 22.7 8.9% 13.6% 48.1

 

Top Medium Metropolitan Areas for Veterans

Medium metropolitans were designated as metropolitan areas with populations over 500,000 and under 1,000,000.

 

Rank Metro Area Unemployment Rate (%) Unemployment Rate for Veterans (%) Job Growth Median Spending per Household Population of Veterans (%) Businesses owned by Veterans (%) Overall Score
1 Jacksonville, FL 9.3% 8% 1.5% 22.6 14.3% 17.4% 58.8
2 Richmond, VA 7.4% 4.9% 0.7% 241.5 10.9% 16.8% 58.7
3 Memphis, TN 10.4% 7.3% -0.7% 24.8 9.4% 16.8% 58.4
4 Tucson, AZ 8.9% 6.5% -1.6% 21.4 12.7% 17.2% 58.0
5 Albuquerque, NM 7.4% 5.2% -0.5% 20.6 12.1% 16.9% 56.6
6 Ventura, CA 8.1% 6.2% 0.6% 26.8 8.2% 12.3% 56.5
7 Omaha, NE 5.8% 4.6% 1.1% 20.2 11.5% 16.5% 56.4
8 Bakersfield, CA 12.2% 9.1% 1.1% 23.9 8.0% 11.2% 56.2
9 Dayton, OH 9.2% 7.6% -1.3% 20.3 12.5% 16.3% 56.0
10 Columbia, SC 8.9% 7.9% -0.6% 19.2 12.1% 17.2% 55.6

 

Methodology

The overall score for the best metro areas for veterans was calculated from the following sources:

  1. Unemployment rate of the general population in the metro area
  2. Ratio of the unemployment rate of the veteran population to the unemployment rate of the general population
  3. The rate of job growth from February 2012 to February 2013
  4. Median spending per household per month
  5. Total percentage of veterans in the overall population
  6. Percentage of businesses that are veteran-owned

369 cities were included in this analysis. Data was obtained from the U.S. census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Photo credit: Marines March