Last week’s announcement that economic development leader extraordinaire Michael Finney will become president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council is a great opportunity to highlight an innovative incentive program Mike created and implemented while serving as head of Michigan’s state economic development organization.

Community Ventures promotes employment and social enterprise in the state’s most distressed urban areas by helping structurally unemployed individuals pursue career opportunities at Michigan companies. The program works through:

  • Employer grants – typically wage reimbursements for employers to cover in-house training and costs related to hiring participants
  • Wrap-around services – such as job coaching and transportation to remove barriers to employment and improve retention
  • Career pathways support for participants – including GED, certification and training efforts
  • Business supports – services to improve employee engagement and productivity

Since its inception in FY 2013, the Community Ventures initiative has led to hiring of nearly 5,000 structurally unemployed persons from Michigan’s target cities. The program previously reported an average 12 month retention rate for Community Ventures placements of almost 70 percent with an average wage over $11 hour.

I first learned about Community Ventures when it was a pilot program. The state economic development organization was spending a lot of time thinking about how they conduct economic development and how to measure success. Focusing on talent was and remains a priority. In this case, talent development also “included people who struggled to find work,” not just highly educated or specialized workers. As more communities consider how to achieve equitable economic development, Community Ventures is an example worth studying.