When Edward Burns Jr. opened a cleaning business, the former Marine knew he wanted veterans on his payroll.
Burns figured people who could pass daily inspections would be good at vanquishing spills, dust and cobwebs. The sense of teamwork, initiative and mission instilled by the military would be assets, too.
Burns’ Spokane Valley company, Valor Cleaning Services, recently was recognized by the Washington Department of Employment Security’s Hire-A-Vet program.
Valor has a staff of 26 workers. Half are vets, said Hannah Schoepp, the agency’s local veterans employment representative, who recommended Valor Cleaning for the award.
“It’s a veteran-owned business, and it is giving back to that community,” Schoepp said.
Burns, 41, launched the company last July. Valor Cleaning has about 30 accounts in the Spokane area. Most of the staff works part-time, cleaning office and apartment complexes after 5 p.m. or in the early morning. Some of the vets have service-related disabilities which limit the number of hours they work, Burns said.
“We have the eye for attention to detail that makes the customer smile,” he said. “We do everything with honor, dignity and respect. That’s what makes us Valor Cleaning.”
Matt Zucca, 21, recently enlisted in the Marines. He’s working for Valor Cleaning until he heads to boot camp in early May.
“My recruiter got me this job to pay the rent until boot camp starts,” he said. “I love it. Even when we’re mopping bathroom floors, we’re laughing and having a good time.”
Zucca works under André Williams, a former Marine who trains many of Valor Cleaning’s new employees.
Williams was a squad and platoon leader in the service. He wanted an employer who valued his military experience, and he was referred to Burns through the Goodwill Industries vocational program.
“We work as a team and we don’t look down on anyone,” Williams said. “We know how to follow directions. We understand our mission.”
“They do a good job,” said Bob McLean, general manager of Larry H. Miller Lexus. He contracted with Valor Cleaning for janitorial services shortly after Burns opened the company, and he’s recommended the service to other businesses.
“You can definitely tell he’s military,” McLean said of Burns. “There’s great attention to detail. … And, I have to remind him not to call me ‘Sir’ all the time.”
Valor Cleaning also has a janitorial contract with The Reserve at Shelley Lake, a 256-unit apartment complex in Spokane Valley.
“He’s motivated and very goal-oriented,” Ben Thew, the property manager, said of Burns. “It’s a great business relationship. Everything gets taken care of.”
Unemployment rates are low nationally and statewide right now, which means that unemployment rates for veterans also are low, said Schoepp, the veterans employment representative. However, recently discharged vets historically have had high unemployment, she said.
To encourage employers to hire veterans, the federal government offers tax credits of up to $9,600 for hiring vets in targeted groups.
Burns said he empathizes with vets who feel adrift in the civilian world.
He spent eight years in active duty and was later part of the reserves. He said he joined the Marine Corps after high school to escape the tough Memphis neighborhood where he grew up.
After his active duty ended, Burns earned degrees in telecommunications and business management. At one point he was a homeless vet, living out of a vehicle while in college, he said.
Burns worked in the telecommunications industry in the Midwest before a job with BNSF Railway brought him to Spokane several years ago.
Launching his own company fulfills a long-held dream, he said. His goals include keeping the 8-month-old cleaning service on a strong growth trajectory.
“My military experience has taught me that there’s nothing too hard for me to get,” he said.