Journal reviews economic development project
The Journal of the Community Development Society recently published an article detailing the success eastern Utah has had in promoting economic development among persons with disabilities and socioeconomic challenges.
The article details the work of Catherine Ipsen, Tom Seekins and Nancy Arnold, all members of the Research and Training Center on Disabilities in Rural Communities at the University of Montana.
Karl Kraync, who was district director at the eastern Utah office of vocational rehabilitation at the time, steered the project to the local area. Vocational rehab sponsored the citizen led economic development project.
The Carbon-Emery Economic Development Coordinating Council, which oversaw the project in 1999-2000, morphed into the policy board that would govern the southeastern Utah small business investment fund.
The fund is about to come in front of the Utah Legislature, where a bill to allocate state monies to continue the project is being considered for sponsorship by Sen. Dan Eastman, Sen. Mike Dmitrich, Representative Patrick Painter and Rep. Brad King.
The initial SEUSBIF project aided the start up of 79 businesses, 11 of which were started by people with disabilities.
The initial Montana study's focus was on rural development that would represent the interests of people with disabilities.
According to the study, people with disabilities are typically disregarded when it comes to development activities. The situation is problematic because people with disabilities have a vested interest in economic growth and outcomes.
According to the National Organization on Disability 2001, the employment rate for people with disabilities is 49 percent less than that of people without disabilities.
"If people with disabilities and the agencies that serve them want to enhance local employment opportunities, they must take an active role in developing and implementing the agenda of rural economic development," notes the article published in the autumn 2006 edition of the journal.
Two reports in the journal - one for eastern Utah and the other for northeastern Vermont - show how self-development can be used to encourage economic development activities and vocational positions for people with disabilities. The strategy works best with a large community buy in.
Research also shows that communities with broad and diverse leadership tend to be more successful than communities with a narrower base.
Through vocational rehabilitation programs and rural centers for independent living, which assist individuals with securing meaningful employment and providing advocacy services, the project set out recognize the kind of asset people with disabilities can be to the economic development community.
Two team leaders, both with disabilities, were chosen to research the project. The team leaders worked collaboratively but on different project activities. Throughout the project team leaders maintained a civic engagement diary and rated both project and civic activities. They identified 300 businesses in Emery County of which 118 were selected as potential interviewees. Fifty-nine agreed to be interviewed representing a 50 percent response rate.
The businesses interviewed were asked to identify products and services that were being purchased outside the community for which local products and services may be substituted, to identify ideas for local value-added businesses and to discuss existing community strengths and barriers.
The study provided 32 business development or expansion ideas generated from business owners and reviewed committee suggestions. One project team leader finished her college degree and was hired by the sponsoring agency as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. The other team leader was hired as a consultant to help the community conduct a similar project.
After the community assessment process the local Small Business Development Center and the Department of Workforce Services became involved in the project. This coalition became an economic development source in eastern Utah.
Later in 2000 the coalition applied for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds for promoting employment and business development. At this point vocational rehabilitation and Emery County Economic Development along with others in the coalition developed SEUSBIF.
Between 2000 and 2003, SEUSBIF started 79 businesses and created 192 jobs. As of early 2005, 66 of these businesses were still operating These 66 businesses reported $3,216,662 in revenue, according to the journal, in a seven month period in 2004-2005. Again 11 of these businesses were started by people with disabilities, 17 percent of the whole.
At this time continued SEUSBIF funding is still in limbo.
In 2006, the Office of the Legislative Auditor General audited the program. The report was favorable stating that, "to date it appears that the benefits provided to these rural communities as a result of SEUSBIF exceed the programs costs."
With a favorable audit in hand and great potential for legislative sponsorship, SEUSBIF leadership is very hopeful for long term funding.
"The community has learned from the Montana Project and SEUSBIF that growth from within is a significant engine for economic development," concluded Kraync."