by Jamie Reno
With the Marines’ former top trainer on board, the ex-newsman’s venture into sustainable farming and changing prospects for returning U.S. military launches today.
Less than two years ago, Dylan Ratigan was ubiquitous. The journalist, author, and entrepreneur’s MSNBC show was the channel’s top-rated program outside prime time, and his book Greedy Bastards was a bestseller. But the disillusioned newsman walked away last June, when his contract was up.
These days, he’s working full time with a group of combat veterans on a hydroponic farm near San Diego. Inspired by these environmentally conscious Marines, he’s partnered with Maj. Gen. Melvin Spiese, the former global head of Marine Corps Training and Command, on a new nationwide job program called the Veterans Job Corps, which launches today.
Once the global managing editor for corporate finance at Bloomberg News, Ratigan has enlisted some other high achievers to help. Among the directors and advisers: Chegg.com CEO Dan Rosensweig, military.com founder Anne Dwane, St. Louis Rams managing owner and Open Pictures founder Chip Rosenbloom, Marine colonel and former Camp Pendleton commander Nick Marano, and Spiese, who, after 37 years of active duty, retired in March as deputy commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force. He’ll serve as VJC’s chairman; Ratigan is director.
The general hosted Ratigan at his house on the Pendleton base in January. As they watched an NFL playoff game, he pitched Spiese on the project and cited the great appetite for young veterans, who Ratigan and Spiese firmly believe will be in demand because of their perceived capacity to do things right.
‘I didn’t know if this guy was nuts, or what, but I knew his idea was viable after we talked.’
“I didn’t know if this guy was nuts, or what, but I knew his idea was viable after we talked,” Spiese says.
Spiese and Ratigan both say that while there are a number of veteran employment resources, the VJC is all about shattering the veteran-as-victim narrative—and even the veteran-as-hero narrative.
“Veterans don’t want to be treated as charity cases, or heroes,” says Spiese. Adds Ratigan, “The idea is to look at these men and women for what they are: high-capacity partners who are trainable, reliable, and very able workers.”
The program’s first project is a rollout of more Archi’s Acres, the Southern California farm founded by an ex-Marine and his wife. Colin and Karen Archipley turned a struggling San Diego–area avocado farm into an innovative operation that employs combat veterans to grow vegetables and trains dozens more in skilled food-supply-chain jobs.
Ratigan has invested all of the six figures he’s made from Greedy Bastards in a 30,000-square-foot “farm incubator” based on the Archipleys’ model, which he hopes will serve as the prototype for job-creating hydroponic organic greenhouses across the country. The farm would also produce three times the crop yield of traditional farms while using 90 percent less water by deploying a hydroponic and organic farming system.
Colin Archipley, who completed three tours in Iraq, says Ratigan’s new project is an “ideal way to catalyze the capabilities from the military and veteran communities” by building sustainable and profitable businesses that create jobs.
As for Ratigan’s ability to get the Marine Corps’ former top trainer on board, Karen Archipley says, “Knowing [Spiese] believes in this project as much as we do is a reflection of the fact that this opportunity is greater than any one of us—and the problem which this addresses is of the highest importance.”
Potential projects for VJC include training veterans how to work with solar-powered electric-car charging stations, which, Ratigan says, will be placed along highways at gas stations.
“I can see as many as 10,000 jobs if we have 100 greenhouses, but we’re also looking at the energy space, and more,” he says. “We can train and provide a custom workforce of veterans to fulfill the growing demand for the transition to electric cars. This is just one other example of what we can do.”
Ratigan says that while he loved hosting a talk show and misses New York, “what I’m doing now is so much more important and satisfying. This is my only gig now. With this project, the sky really is the limit.”