Alabama Customized Employment:
Grant number, name, and location: Alabama Customized Employment, Montgomery AL, # E-9-4-2-0094
Grant recipient: Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs
Project lead: Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs
Subcontractors: Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Alabama WIB, Janice Capilouto Center for the Deaf, Central Alabama Easter Seals, East Alabama Easter Seals, Department of Rehabilitation Services, Department of Medicaid, Governor's Office on Disabilities, Small Business Development Centers, STAR Program.
The Alabama Customized Employment (ACE) project was implemented throughout Alabama with the exception of Jefferson and Mobile counties. The ACE grant funded three demonstration projects: ACE Microenterprise, Janice Capilouto Center for the Deaf-Easter Seals Work Conditioning, and Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services-SAIL.
- The ACE Microenterprise Program enhanced both the One-Stop and VR's employment services by providing training, management, and technical assistance around self-employment and small business development.
- The business expertise of staff made a significant contribution to the establishment of microbusinesses.
The ACE Microenterprise Program was designed to prepare aspiring entrepreneurs with the management training skills that are essential for small business success. Through training workshops, one-on-one management consulting, networking programs, and a loan program, ACE provided management and technical assistance for people with disabilities to start small businesses.
The ACE Microenterprise management training program was designed to equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the necessary skills to operate their small businesses successfully. Training courses included:
- How to Start a Small Business
- How to Write a Business Plan
- Marketing Your Small Business
- Understanding Financial Statements
- Personnel and Strategic Planning
- The Art of Small Business Networking
- How to Start a Home-Based Business
In addition to this series, ACE offered management support and technical assistance including one-one-one consultation on such topics as obtaining a business license, developing and editing a business plan, and creating a marketing plan. Program participants also received support with financial forecasting, personnel planning, strategic management planning, home-based business startup, franchising, and effective leadership.
The most significant impact of the ACE Microenterprise Program was assisting individuals with disabilities with achieving self-employment goals (click here for an example). Such businesses gave them a more flexible work environment and enabled them to balance their personal, medical, and work schedules.
ACE targeted residents of the entire state. The program provided services to individuals with physical, psychiatric, visual, deaf/hard of hearing, cognitive, and learning disabilities. Many participants received SSI or SSDI.
Customization of Standard Workforce Practices
The ACE Microenterprise Program enhanced service provision and provided a broader range of options to individuals with disabilities who were interested in employment. Prior to ACE, only the Job Placement Program coordinated individual plans for employment. Although this was an excellent work program for individuals who wanted to obtain a job, it was limited to conventional employment, not self-employment.
Furthermore, the ACE program enhanced services within the local One-Stop and VR offices. A pivotal staff person in this endeavor was a VR representative who was housed at the One-Stop on an itinerant basis. Although the majority of referrals came from VR, other job seekers were One-Stop walk-ins who received information regarding the range of self-employment supports offered through ACE. Through cross-training initiatives with both VR and the One-Stop staff (explained in more detail later), both entities became more aware of this resource and referred clients for support.
Staff in the microenterprise program had their own businesses that allowed them to provide assistance and make recommendations on business, finance, marketing, and sales strategies, all of which helped new entrepreneurs develop a feasible business plan. Developing a business plan helped new business owners look at their business idea objectively rather than emotionally. The business plan was also a necessary step to obtain funding from grant programs and from financial institutions such as banks, credit unions, and loan companies.
Business analysts, management consultants, and microenterprise specialists provided management and technical assistance to new entrepreneurs. Individuals who had a strong management background were particularly qualified to provide sound management advice to new business owners. These professionals could assist the fledgling entrepreneurs with hands-on help starting a new business, understanding financial statements, marketing a small business, planning for human resources, ensuring customer satisfaction, and writing a business plan.
The ACE Microenterprise Program used grant resources for administrative services; client evaluation fees; entrepreneur technologies; computers; fax machines; software; business resource library media; salaries and personnel development; and office equipment, supplies, furniture, rent, and utilities. The project also accessed resources from the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. ACE established fee-for-service contracts with this department and with Veterans Affairs, which allowed these services to continue beyond the life of the grant.