Gentex V.E.T.S provides support to veterans year-around

Every Veterans Day, Gentex honors its employees who are veterans for their service. But the Zeeland manufacturer’s commitment to veterans extends year-round.

“It’s a way to say thank you to all veterans. Our group’s message is to have an attitude of gratitude and to say thank you for all the sacrifices and service that our veterans did for this country,” says Mike Tate, materials department manager.

That commitment has only grown stronger with the creation of the Gentex V.E.T.S. Business Resource Group, which began in 2019 to increase support for veterans inside and outside the company. V.E.T.S. stands for Veterans. Empowerment. Teamwork. Service.

Business Resource Groups were established as part of the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and are an integral component of Gentex’s commitment to driving change in those areas.

Gentex, Ottawa County's biggest employer, is a high-tech supplier of electro-optical products for the automotive, aerospace, and commercial fire protection industries.

Impacting veterans organizations

“Veterans definitely made sacrifices for the freedom of this country, and our group wants to give back to those that have made those sacrifices,” says Tate, who has served as the Gentex V.E.T.S. BRG lead since 2019. “We really just want to make a difference in the community. A lot of us join the military to make a difference,” he says. “We do definitely want to make an impact on veteran organizations. The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans has been kind of our main community partner. Like every group we have at Gentex, there's always a community aspect.”

Tate’s family has a long history of military service. His dad was career military, serving for 25 years, and his grandfather fought in World War II. His family moved to West Michigan when his father, who worked as a food and beverage director following his military retirement, took a position with the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids.

Mike Tate, Gentex's materials department manager, is often asked to speak about his military experience. (Gentex)

After graduating from Forest Hills Central High School in Ada, Tate joined the Army National Guard to pay for college. He attended Western Michigan University to study aviation flight science. When his unit was deployed to Iraq for a tour in 2004-05, he was in logistics and supply chain, responsible for ordering repair parts for helicopters.

“When I got back from my deployment, I bounced around a little bit because I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do,” Tate says. “Then I found Gentex at a career fair in 2007 and was offered a job as a technical team leader.” 

For the past eight years, he has been in the supply chain and is the material planning manager, responsible for securing all raw materials for manufacturing.

Mission has three goals

The V.E.T.S. group has a three-point mission statement committed to:

● Equipping veterans with the skills that they need for success at Gentex.
● Making Gentex an employer of choice for veterans. The company has earned bronze-
level status as a veteran-friendly employer through the Michigan Veterans Affairs
● Serving the local community.

To meet those goals, Gentex V.E.T.S has partnered with organizations such as the West Michigan Veterans Coalition and the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. A company-wide cookie fundraiser generated $5,000 for the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

Members of the Gentex V.E.T.S. paint the tank in front of the American Legion Post. (Gentex)

Among the community outreach efforts include moving books for Herrick District Library, working on a Habitat for Humanity build, and painting a historic tank in front of the American Legion Post.

Promotes hiring of veterans

Gentex takes part in recruiting events geared toward veterans, such as the Hiring West Michigan Expo put on by the West Michigan Veterans Coalition and the Veterans Networking Job Club sponsored by West Michigan Works!.

“We want to hire more veterans at Gentex,” says Tate, adding that the company has taken advantage of the Skills Bridge program that was launched by the U.S. Department of Defense to assist military personnel who are preparing to retire from the military to transition into civilian jobs.

Gentex V.E.T.S at a Grand Valley Armory recruiting event. (Gentex)

Gentex V.E.T.S. partnered with Pine Rest on a mental health panel to bring awareness about the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and resources for people struggling with it.

“PTSD is something that all people can struggle with, but it definitely impacts veterans at a very high rate because of the things that they have to go through and see,” Tate says.

During COVID, Gentex V.E.T.S. participated in the Michigan Veterans Affairs agency’s campaign Veterans Smile.

“Our group recorded a video where we just went around and said thank you for your service to veterans. It was just kind of a cool way to connect with veterans who were living in the veterans' homes because at that time they couldn't have visitors,” Tate says.

The West Michigan Veterans Coalition presented the Gentex V.E.T.S. with an award for the group's work. (Gentex)

The group meets for an hour every other week to plan activities. In addition to Tate, the Gentex V.E.T.S. advisory board includes Ken Horner, vice president of program management and quality; Brian Beardsley, director of business development; Lisa Garren, employee relations representative; Jeff Lukas, security manager; Andrew Prins, production process technician; and Tim Bower, employee relations representative.

“We work in a lot of different areas, but that's cool, too, because our paths are spread out throughout the organization,” Tate says. “We have a pretty big reach and are able to connect with people throughout the entire organization.”

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.