Program helped laid-off workers create 62 new businesses

Many people who were laid off in the recession had more than 20 years of experience in their fields and have found it hard to find jobs with comparable salaries. The Community College Workforce Alliance developed a program that helped some of those workers become entrepreneurs and 62 new small businesses have resulted in greater Richmond.

Cassandra Taylor was working in records at the Richmond City Jail when her job was downsized. "Oh, my goodness," she reacted, "What am I going to do?"

On the side, she had already been preparing tax returns for businesses and individuals a few months a year. Now she's turned that into a full-time bookkeeping business, Taylor-Made Business Services, with the help of a program called GATE.

"They gave me classes in reference to networking, marketing and other business set-up classes, a general overview of what it was going to require for me to be full-time and do this on my own," she told us.

GATE, or Growing America Through Entrepreneurship, is run by the Community College Workforce Alliance through a Department of Labor grant. It helps people age 45 and over who were laid off to start their own businesses.

Explains GATE Director Wesley Smith, "For people who have been in an industry for 10 to 20 years, its hard to get that same job or pay rate after a lay off. So a lot of time, people have no choice but to start a new business and it's a big risk that they take."

Over the last two years, 235 people have attended the program, and 62 new businesses have been created, ranging from consulting, to power washing, to organic farming.

Said Smith, "We have our training classes, everything from business plan development, accounting issues, Quickbooks usage, marketing, sales, finance."

Taylor learned how to market her business, with tools like a website, a car magnet, and most importantly networking. "If you don't tell people about your business, then no one will know about your business. So that was big to get the word out."

Now she has hired a part-time assistant and is moving her business for her home to an office. "It has turned out better than I could have ever expected."

The GATE program ends in June. The Workforce Alliance hopes to receive another grant that could help them offer the program again. Meantime, it will continue to offer classes and resources to help new entrepreneurs. You can learn more through the Community College Workforce Alliance website.