James A. Mitchell| Crain’s Custom Media

By all accounts a $10 million state investment to boost employment opportunities for non-traditional workers has paid off. More than 2,000 new hires have been credited to Community Ventures since its October 2012 launch, with expectations of more to come.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. initiative provided an incentive of $5,000 for each new hire, and brought in the support of entities including the Michigan Works Association, with an emphasis on those with limited educations or backgrounds that include criminal records.

Dan Martinez, Workforce Development Program Manager for Southeast Michigan Community Alliance, said that the concept helped address the needs of hiring managers who struggled with retention rates among entry-level workers.

“Our goals are the same,” Martinez said. “To get people into sustaining employment so they can take care of their families. We can go at it alone or sit at the table together.”

Pilot programs rolled out in Detroit, Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw and their respective counties. SEMCA provided screening of prospective employees at its “One-Stop” Michigan Works hiring stations.

“Rather than each company going through the hiring process, we already have that in place and can provide candidates to fit their needs,” Martinez said. “That saves the employer a tremendous amount of time and money.”

According to a June MEDC update, Community Ventures had placed 2,166 unemployed residents in full-time jobs, a milestone met earlier than the expected two-year mark. More than 90 employers had committed to the program, which reported a 69 percent retention rate.

Lermit Diaz, general manager of West Bloomfield-based SC Thread Cutting Tools, said he expects to add another employee to his workforce by early next year after the program provided what he called, “A great worker, and a great individual.” Diaz said he appreciated the chance to identify local resources and employees.

“My philosophy is if I’m going to help I like to start in my own community,” Diaz said. In December 2013 Diaz spoke at an event that introduced Community Ventures to hiring managers at Oakland County’s Automation Alley, and heard testimony from companies that had employed up to 300 workers through the program.

Martinez said the program’s success is that it has proven sustainable; with resources to not only get people hired but to maintain employment by resolving barriers they may face. Counseling, day-care services, transportation issues are all factors that determine a worker’s ability to turn a job into a career.

“It’s not just getting them in the door,” Martinez said. “If it wasn’t successful most of these companies would have bailed a long time ago.”

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