Funding Self-Employment: Cobb County, GA
Cobb County, GA Customized Employment Project
CobbWorks! Inc. has improved access to Individual Training Accounts for people with disabilities interested in customized employment and microenterprise/self-employment. This initiative, which was also referred to as PROJECT EXCEED, was implemented through a five-year (2001-2006) Customized Employment Grant awarded to the Cobb County Community Services Board (CCSB, www.cobbcsb.com) by the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor. Collaborators in this effort included Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), CobbWorks! Inc., the Cobb Workforce Development Center (a One-Stop Career Center), the Cobb Microenterprise Center, the Small Business Development Center, and Score Inc. CobbWorks! Inc. is the Marietta, Georgia Workforce Investment Board (WIB).
PROJECT EXCEED has a broadened the scope of existing WIA ITAs by using grant funded ITAs to focus on unique employment opportunities such as customized employment and microenterprise/self-employment. Once a month, the lead customized employment broker met with customers who were interested in ITAs. The purpose of these meetings, which were attended on average by six customers, was threefold:
- to discuss with the customers their vocational goals, funding options, and the terms and conditions of the training to be pursued;
- to provide customers with basic information about the ITA process, including how to apply; and
- to determine whether or not customers' vocational goals matched with the ITA program.
After the meeting, the lead customized employment broker reviewed and assessed the information pertaining to each individual customer and made recommendations. Recommendations might not necessarily lead to an ITA application; instead the project coordinator might suggest that the customer would benefit more from VR or One-Stop services.
Customized employment brokers were employed by CCSB to work specifically with ITA customers with disabilities. These positions were funded through the Customized Employment Grant. Brokers were home-based but used the One-Stop facilities to meet with their customers. Customers met with their brokers multiple times depending on the scope and type of assistance needed. The main responsibility of the brokers was to assist customers in achieving their vocational goals; this could involve supporting customers' selection of a training program/provider or the writing of a business plan. In addition, customized employment counselors also broker the customers' ITA fund ($15,000 per customer; funds were usually spent in collaboration with VR funds).
For customers whose vocational goal was microenterprise or self-employment, the next step involved writing a detailed business plan, researching potential markets, and preparing their services and products for initial sale. Professional assistance and training was available from Cobb Microenterprise Center (CMC), a partner in the initiative. CMC is a not-for-profit organization that offers an in-depth entrepreneurial training program designed for low- to moderate-income individuals aspiring to start or expand a business (www.cobbmicro.org). The entrepreneurial program consists of business planning and life skills courses. This intensive 12-week program is designed to help entrepreneurs sharpen the skills needed to create, manage, and grow a successful business. The course is also helpful in that it provides feedback about whether a participant's ideas are viable.
Additional support was available from the Small Business Development Center (http://coles.kennesaw.edu/sbdc/index.htm) as well as Score Inc., a group of retired executives who volunteer their time to help entrepreneurs starting their own businesses. Score is housed within the Cobb Chamber of Commerce (www.cobbchamber.org).
Customers then submitted their business plan to the lead customized employment broker who together with a state-level VR counselor assessed the plan and its feasibility. Once the plan was accepted and funding granted, customers could start implementing their plan together with the broker. Using a competitive bid approach (instead of a list of approved providers), customers could choose the resources (e.g., staff, space, provider) necessary to accomplish the goals of their plan. The broker continued to support the customer (e.g., hire an accountant, rent space, hire equipment, print business cards) for as long as this support was necessary.
Lee is currently employed full time at the Ruby Fullbright Recreation Center of Habersham County. He is on the maintenance crew that maintains the vast acreage of baseball and soccer fields around the Center. Lee's position was negotiated by the customized support team as a "resource ownership" arrangement. Lee's individual training account (ITA) purchased a commercial mower, blower and trimmer (items needed by the employer, but not fully funded by the County budget for this year). Bringing the equipment in as a "value exchange" allowed the County to juggle budgets and free up payroll to hire Lee. The employment profile for Lee revealed a strong interest and some experience in working on landscape and lawn maintenance crews. This employment negotiation is a "win – win" for Lee and Habersham County. Lee has been described as a hard worker and good employee by his supervisor and co-workers.
For more detailed information about this practice, please contact:
Kate Brady, Lead Customized Employment Broker, CobbWorks, Marietta, GA, firstname.lastname@example.org.