Montana Choice, Control, Career:
Grant number, name, and location: Montana Choice, Control, Career (MCCC), Helena, MT, E-9-4-3-0123
Grant recipient: Montana Job Training Partnership
Project lead: Montana Job Training Partnership
Subcontractors: Roberts Consulting; The Rural Institute at the Univeristy of Montana; Lone Eagle Consulting (a training and TA resource and four One-Stop Career Centers (in Butte, Cut Bank, Glasgow, and Hamilton)
- Self-employment is an important strategy for workforce and economic development in extremely rural areas.
- A broad range of resources are available to help growing businesses, if staff are diligent in forming relationships and networking.
- E-commerce strategies are also very effective in rural areas that lack access to a traditional customer base.
The Montana Choice, Control, Career project (MCCC) has gone through two distinct phases in its brief development. As it was first conceptualized and implemented, the grant recipient, the Montana Job Training Partnership, then also the recipient of State Workforce Investment Act dollars (thereafter funneled to various areas in the state), would distribute the MCCC grant monies to four One-Stop Centers. These centers, in Butte, Hamilton, Cut Bank, and Glasgow, would then implement the project locally under the guidance of the Job Training Partnership and two consultants specializing in customized employment and self-employment, and e-commerce, respectively. This model produced good numbers and many compelling self-employment successes, but resulted in less buy-in from the One-Stop managers.
Subsequent to the election of a new governor, the governor's office filed for a change in its WIA state plan with U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (ETA), which entailed shifting control of WIA funds from the Job Training Partnership to the state employment services system. Along with a massive reduction in its overhead and staff, this meant that the Partnership essentially had no further role to play in service delivery in the One-Stops. As this move was viewed as the culmination of a long turf war between the Partnership and Employment Services, there was little opportunity for collaboration. As such, a total redesign of the project was implemented.
The new Montana Choice project is centrally controlled through the Partnership offices rather than delegated to local sites. Two Partnership staff act as primary 'case managers' for customers in various areas of the state. They then work with local agencies and organizations to deliver services on the ground. Interestingly, their new model actually covers a larger geographical territory than before.
Self-employment continues to be a major, if not the sole, focus of the project. Innovations made in this area include blended funding and broadly used self-employment tactics. Almost half of the 240 individuals served by this grant opted for a self-employment opportunity in less than three years.
Self-employment is the key service feature of the MCCC grant. Through it, many innovative businesses have been developed by individuals who had, in many cases, experienced repeated failures with standard employment (click here for examples).
Coordination with Sheltered Workshops
In Glasgow, the local project coordinator served as a member of the advisory board of the local sheltered workshop. Through her connections, she arranged to visit the shop and speak directly with the individuals employed there. The first positive result of this intervention was the start-up Secure Shreds by Palmer, an independent shredding company started by one of the shelter's longest-standing employees. Though he continues to spend some time in the shelter through his own choosing and as a social outlet, Palmer now spends his afternoons at any number of outside work sites, where he works under direct contract with the agency in question. The workshop, after some coaxing, has even begun to provide transportation and job-coaching support to Palmer, as needed.
Not only was this a monumental change for one person, but the workshop as a whole benefited as well. Many of Palmer's social contacts at the shelter, intrigued by his success, pushed to be given the same opportunity. As a result, many others in the workshop have started businesses and, generally speaking, the idea that working outside is a positive and important goal has become prevalent. In addition, the Glasgow One-Stop acquired a second, smaller grant, to accomplish similar goals. It applied for and received a grant from RESEED, a rural self-employment grant program from the University of Montana, which allowed it to augment the person-directed funding it applied to individuals in the project. Lastly, the project's involvement in the sheltered workshop set a trend in the management of the workshop itself. The executive director, who been on staff for many years and who was not convinced of the value of community employment, retired and was replaced by a woman who was very interested in community employment and self-employment and who has been an active partner in the effort to provide a wider range of competitive employment opportunities for individuals in the shelter.
John, working out of the Glasgow Job Linc, received funding from the project, the local vocational rehabilitation services agency, and WIA Supportive Services Funding to buy the various pieces of equipment (including a new truck) required to start his hauling business. Another individual benefited from these same services to fund his business, and also used 'Extended Support' funds offered under the Workforce Investment Act to pay for living expenses while his business grew. A third individual used funds from the project and vocational rehabilitation to leverage a small business loan that she put toward opening a cyber cafe in Poplar, MT.
Roger Shelley, a principal consultant to the MCCC project, points out that the first mistake most professionals make is to think of this as funding development. Rather, he says, it is best to think of it as 'resource development': gathering the various resources, supports, and funding sources that a person has at his or her disposal for the greatest possible benefit to the individual.
This requires relationship building, as well as a knowledge of and respect for the various systems involved. Before seeking funding from agencies, staff should have met with them to find out what and whom they fund, and what has to be done before they will release funding. In Montana, staff took the time to reach out to local, state, and regional representatives who could help them and contribute resources to their customers. Of course, the customized employment grantee's willingness and ability to provide the first and most flexible funding out of its own budget also contributed to the partners' sense of trust and buy-in.
E-Commerce and Community Networking
In addition to the individual successes experienced throughout the state, the MCCC project also funded a set of activities facilitated by Lone Eagles, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in rural e-commerce, telework, and community networking projects. Frank Odasz, the company's principal, worked with a number of communities throughout Montana, offering trainings on everything from basic Internet and e-commerce literacy to advanced assistance in forming community support for multiple small-business ventures (click here for examples).
The process he followed was roughly the same in most areas:
First, Lone Eagle and MCCC would host "e-commerce and telework awareness" presentations in rural communities. These presentations engaged participants in online lessons and in an ongoing online interaction regarding entry-level Web-based self-employment opportunities.
After gaining an overview of available opportunities through the online lessons, participants engaged in skill-building workshops and created electronic portfolios of their existing skills as well as a list of which new skills they most needed, along with a plan. Lessons included:
- Basic Computer Skills: A First Lesson
- A Beginner's Guide to Profiting from the Internet
- Introduction to Online Auctions, Like eBay
- Essential Internet Ecommerce Skills
Systemic changes that followed involved engaging community leaders, with an emphasis on elected leaders and K-12 administrators and educators, in understanding the importance of key action strategies, youth involvement, and first steps that don't require outside funding. Strategies included:
- Conducting a local Web-based review of existing businesses
- Creating a local Web directory and planning a co-marketing initiative
- Establishing a roster of mentors and a local skills registry
- Establishing an e-commerce resources portal and a virtual incubator
- Engaging leaders in defining goals for the first small steps, and in grant-writing for integrated common-sense projects that involve citizens in meaningful activities, such as seen in the following grant template:
Businesses that began through this process include:
Spaghetti Western Replicas
This business, started by Ron Martinez, produces figurines and other replicas and keepsakes of the Spaghetti Westerns for sale online. Mr. Martinez's business is based in Malta, MT, where many of the local trainings occurred.
Running Crane Lodge Outdoor Adventures
Located on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, this small business offers tours through the surrounding area, including Glacier National Park and other local natural attractions. Shortly after opening, this business received an on-line order for $10,000.
The Montana Paint Horse Club
The Montana Paint Horse Club is a paid-membership society established to promote the American paint horse throughout the state of Montana and beyond. Through meetings, shows, trail rides, clinics, scholarships, and other avenues, it provides a means for all owners and enthusiasts of this versatile and colorful breed to come together and promote their horses.