Teaching People to Fish

As the city of Detroit and the State of Michigan continue to redefine itself for the future economy, an area of opportunity is talent enhancement.

The city, in the midst of an economic revival, has been called the most poverty-stricken major city in the country and one of the key challenges is preparing and training the workforce as part of the the new economy.

Another challenge is transportation–specifically, offering transportation opportunities to those so they can get to work despite their proximity to potential jobs.

Historically, Detroit’s been a manufacturing-laden region and a certain skill-set was required and now, as this region’s transformation continues, having talent skills which are consistent with a diverse economy are essential.

Michael A. Finney, President & CEO, Community Ventures Resources, Inc, is taking action. Finney, the former Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) CEO and Senior Economic Adviser to the Governor, has launched the Community Ventures (CV) program. CV offers consultation services to assist in the development of strategic plans for state and local governments focused on providing a “pathway out of poverty for structurally unemployed residents in Michigan”.

The hope is to provide necessary tools for the structurally unemployed to achieve “economic stability” and to have companies help train those ultimately hired.

I recently talked to Finney and asked for his thoughts about CV and why it’s important to address the state’s “structurally unemployed” residents.
Lee: You were President, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and subsequently, Senior Adviser to the Governor. Why did you decide to leave state government on 10/31 and become an entrepreneur and lead CV?

Finney: We launched the Community Ventures (CV) program during my tenure at the MEDC. After delivering excellent results over the first three years, I decided to commit full-time assisting citizens in poverty by expanding the CV program Statewide. I can’t think of a better way to give back than a program that “teaches others to fish.”

Lee: How’s the transition been to date?

Finney: CV continues to assist with placement in four cities, Detroit, Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw. We are on track to assist another 1,200 – 1,300 job seekers in 2016. We are also securing funding to support the expansion of CV statewide. Our outreach includes Foundations, local government and private businesses.

Lee: You started and became CEO, Community Ventures of Michigan last year. What exactly is it?

Finney: Community Ventures Resources, Inc. (CVR), provides “social impact” consulting to assist state and local governments with development and execution of strategic plans designed to create a pathway out of poverty for populations who are disconnected from employment resources. CVR also offers economic development site location consulting including talent and business incentives services in support of proposed business expansions, relocations and acquisitions.

Lee: Detroit and the state of Michigan are transforming itself. In other words, from manufacturing to more to one based on a diverse economy. This means, there’s an employment “gap” where there’s structural unemployment. How does Community Ventures address this issue?

Finney: The CV program focuses on individuals who are structurally unemployed. Many are unskilled and typically fit well in unskilled jobs. Given the growth in our economy, there are many available jobs for every skill level. This skills gap is not the biggest challenge for the structurally unemployed. Our experience demonstrates that transportation (proximity to the jobs) is the biggest hurdle. We provide services to CV participants that help overcome the transportation challenge, allowing participants to move from property to economic sustainability.

Lee: So, Community Ventures is actually placing unemployed individuals into the workforce? If so, what are results-to-date?

Finney: Since the inception of CV in 2013, we have assisted nearly 4,000 residents of Detroit, Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw in securing full-time jobs that pay a living wage. The program is also a great pay-for-performance model. CV underwent a performance audit that demonstrated a 14-month payback.

Lee: What training challenges have you had to over on with those who’ve been out of the job market for over 12 months?

Finney: CV does not perform training. We rely on employers to hire CV candidates and provide necessary training after they are employed full-time.

Lee: Where do you see Community Ventures in five years?

Finney: Ideally, poverty will be reduced in all communities where CV operates. We think the program can assist ~10,000 individuals annually if properly funded. We also envision CV as a national model for moving individuals from poverty to economic sustainability.

Lee: How is this effort being funded?

Finney: CV is funded by the State of Michigan. We are targeting funds from foundations, local government and private businesses.

Lee: And how many corporate partners are engaged?

Finney: We currently have more that 120 corporate partners participating in CV. They are located near the existing CV communities.