Jobless could become business owners in Wheeling

Updated 1/28/2013 11:20 PM

In 18 months Wheeling could have up to 150 new businesses started by unemployed people under a pilot program connected with Illinois WorkNet, which coordinates programs to train workers and help those who are jobless, the village board heard Monday.

One of the first steps is finding unemployed people who are passionate about starting a business and are willing to work hard, said Praveen Gupta, director of the Illinois Institute of Technology's Wheaton-based Center for Innovation Science and Applications. Education for the entrepreneurs will be an important part of the program, Gupta said, and businesses and service providers, including banks and attorneys, will be recruited to help.


The Wheeling Innovative Entrepreneur Initiative is expected to launch March 1. Dru Garcia, the village's business development coordinator, has worked on the project for a few months, and the municipal staff is very excited, said Village Manager Jon Sfondilis.

"It shows that we are looking at business in a new light and taking the lead," he said. "It's the true definition of economic development."

Under a recent reorganization, the local offices of WorkNet are now called Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. Organizers expect support from that agency and are working on grants.

The village will "take ownership" and publicize the program and help coordinate local assistance, Gupta said, and the project might stage events at public places such as libraries.

Thirty percent to 40 percent of unemployed people are upset because they can't get work that pays what they were making before, said Mohammed Faheem, who works in business and career services with WorkNet. He acknowledged that a large percentage of new businesses fail but said support and education will make a difference.

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"We have innovative ideas and will have rapid startups with no long, drawn-out process before you can launch a business. You can start out small," he said.

The team hopes to offer the program in other towns after proving its success in Wheeling.

"From an economic point of view, Wheeling is very progressive," said Faheem. He said he and Gupta have a total of 50 years of experience starting businesses and teaching people how to succeed.

The team is based in the Arlington Heights WorkNet office that serves the area from Des Plaines to Elgin.

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