Inside NoVa: Rep. Spanberger swings through Woodbridge to tour family, veteran-owned businesses

INSIDENOVA, BEN PETERS

Rep. Abigail Spanberger on Thursday took to the streets of Woodbridge to tour veteran-owned small businesses to seek input on the challenges they’re facing and what policy changes they might like to see.

The congresswoman, who is currently an early Democratic frontrunner in the 2025 race for Virginia governor, visited Zeiders Enterprises, a federal contractor that works to support military and veteran communities; Veterans Growing America, a local Black Veteran-owned marketplace that helps veterans and military spouses showcase and grow their businesses; and Whitlock Wealth Management, a financial oversight firm that helps residents balance their books.

“Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the economic engine of Virginia’s communities. Whenever I can, I make sure to hear directly from small business owners and their employees about the unique challenges and opportunities they face,” Spanberger said.

She continued, “As Prince William residents know, this area has a proud record of service to community and service to country — and that’s why I was also glad to hear from several family-owned and veteran-owned businesses that are helping to grow our economy and create more jobs here in the 7th District. Our military families and veterans have been and will continue to be an enormously important part of this region’s economic success.”

At contractor Zeiders Enterprises, President and CEO Paul Richardson told Spanberger government shutdowns are disruptive for both the company and its customers. He said shutdowns cannot become the new norm, as Republicans in Congress have increasingly threatened to bring federal spending to a halt as a bargaining chip. 

As a firm that works with military families and veterans, many of its clients are already suffering with acute stress disorders, and the added pressure of a government shutdown is far from productive, Richardson said. Spanberger has been among the most vocal members of Congress speaking out against government shutdowns and the havoc they can wreak on local businesses and families.

Richardson also asked Spanberger to push for greater support for military families, like making it easier to send their kids to in-state colleges even if their permanent address is elsewhere since service members move residencies frequently. The CEO also championed further development on the eastern end of Prince William since the area is more closely connected with major transportation corridors that connect to destinations like Tysons and Washington, D.C.

The congresswoman’s second stop was to Veterans Growing America, a marketplace in Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center that’s home to several Black-owned, veteran-owned and military spouse-owned small businesses. The operation, which has garnered national attention, is managed by CEO Donnell Johns.

The businesses in the bazaar range from essential oils shops aimed at veterans suffering with mental health challenges to insurance agencies and boutique streetwear dealers. 

Nancy Jean-Louis, civilian aide to the secretary of the Army and a real estate agent, called the space a “counter narrative” to negative mental health-related stigmas associated with military veterans struggling to reintegrate themselves back into civilian life.

Many of the owners told Spanberger it’s been difficult for them to access grant money and navigate the sometimes arcane tax system for small businesses. Obtaining permits in a timely manner was also a challenge for some. 

The congresswoman spent the most time at Veterans Growing America, chatting with business owners and examining their wares.

The last stop was at Whitlock Wealth Management, a family-owned firm operated by Gayle and Bennett Whitlock, a firm that’s been operating in Northern Virginia for nearly 30 years and in Woodbridge for more than a decade. The couple also own the Centerfuse Coworking Space in Manassas, which opened in recent years as an office space for remote workers and a meeting destination for businesses.

Their businesses have weathered the pandemic and other challenges, but knowing what headwinds are coming is helpful for being prepared, Gayle Whitlock said.

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