Getting people working again – for themselves

By Rhonda J. Miller
PBN Staff Writer

When finding a job is difficult – or seems nearly impossible – one option is to hire yourself by starting a business. More

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Getting people working again – for themselves

GETTING STARTED: Bernie Lane, owner of It Starts Here Fitness in Warwick, speaks with Arianna Pafume. After spending 28 years in sales, Lane spent a year unemployed before starting his own business.

By Rhonda J. Miller
PBN Staff Writer

Posted 4/7/14

When finding a job is difficult – or seems nearly impossible – one option is to hire yourself by starting a business.

The operators of four new businesses resulting from Rhode Island’s Self-Employment Assistance Program did just that. The program is intended to put unemployed state residents back to work by the power of their own experience, skill, talent, vision and entrepreneurial legwork.

After being on the books – but sitting on the shelf – since the mid-1990s, the program was revived in March 2013 with a $159,700 federal grant to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training.

The first group began the 10-week business-plan development and mentoring program in August 2013. The sixth group of unemployed, would-be entrepreneurs is currently in the program.

So far, the program has produced 48 graduates with a viable business plan, including the four new Rhode Island business owners, said Connie Parks, DLT’s chief of labor and training operations.

“It’s a very large commitment with layers of interviewing to make sure they’re serious about it,” said Parks. “We start with a ‘Reality Check’ session at one of the NetworkRI offices that’s an overview of the program. Then they meet one-on-one with a counselor and we look for a viable business idea.”

So far, 57 people have been accepted into the program. Nine withdrew and decided to look for work instead.

It’s not a program for those with a vague, “I’d like to be my own boss” or “one day I’ll open my own business” outlook. It’s an intensive program with a specific goal – developing a business plan that leads to launching a business.

“Some of the feedback we’ve had so far from the folks in the program is how shocked they were at how much time and effort it takes to produce a business plan,” said Parks. “But in the end, you can take it to the bank.”

Bernie Lane went to the bank, not for a business loan but to take some of his 401(k) and home-equity money to launch It Starts Here Fitness in Warwick on Feb. 3.

Unemployed for about a year, after 28 years in sales, including work with Metropolitan Life and a payroll company, as well as extensive experience managing restaurants, Lane took a hard look at his options and, although employers wouldn’t say it directly, he figured, “I was 66 years old. Nobody’s going to hire a 66-year-old.”

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