CSBG Spotlight: California CAA Helps People Go From Unemployment to Entrepreneurship

– By Eric Stam – 

In the current economy, many unemployed workers are choosing self-employment when jobs are not coming their way. But many would be entrepreneurs are intimidated by the process and worry about losing what little money they have to get started. In California, the Community Action Agency (CAA), Community Services and Employment Training, Inc. (CSET) manages the Microenterprise Training and Technical Assistance Program, which offers a bridge from unemployment to small business ownership for residents of Tulare County. Ultimately, the program aims to revitalize the community by launching new businesses, strengthening existing businesses, and creating new jobs.

Believing small businesses to be a key part of the economy, CSET responded to their community’s employment crisis by promoting local entrepreneurship. Using Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) funds, CSET built a network of local partners and an entrepreneurship program which was able to provide participants with the full suite of services they would need to start or grow their businesses.

The core of CSET’s program, it’s Build-A-Biz Workshops, focused on six fundamental skill sets: entrepreneurship, identifying business opportunities, planning and management, marketing and sales, accounting, and financing. Through these workshops—offered in English and Spanish—participants also received one-on-one training and worked towards developing a business plan or loan application.

In 2011, four Build-A-Biz Workshops were conducted. Out of 93 participants, 50 graduated from the program. Furthermore, the program produced 19 business plans and 27 loan applications. As of now eight business plans received approval, resulting in $73,000 in approved loans, and 14 loan applications were pending.

CSET’s program demonstrates an effective and direct way to spur economic activity, providing an avenue to inject CSBG and other funds into the local economy. By creating new jobs, new enterprises, and new dreams, this program increases economic security for its participants and for the community as a whole.