Cleaning Business Planned

Published 4:29 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2010

PRINCE EDWARD – Southside Training Employment and Placement Services (STEPS) is trekking into two new business ventures.

According to STEPS Executive Director Sharon Harrup, the agency has received separate grants from the state's Department of Rehabilitative Services and will open a ladies designer name consignment store in the former Ivy Trellis building on Farmville's Main Street and, in another venture, help in the establishment of a light-duty commercial cleaning crew.

“…What we have found is that historically we have been able to provide job training and employment to people with moderate to severe disabilities very adequately,” Ms. Harrup told The Herald. “We feel like we have done a good job finding and identifying and employing people with severe disabilities in our manufacturing and recycling efforts and things like that. The population we don't think we've done quite as good a job offering services to are those folks that have less severe disabilities. And, in this economic climate, they are having equally as difficult a time finding jobs as anyone else.”

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She added, “So we sort of set out on a different path and thought maybe a retail business in Farmville, since Farmville's recognized as the retail hub of our region. And then a commercial cleaning business simply because…we know that there are businesses out there that would love the opportunity to support STEPS and our mission, but we've really gotta find a way to get them engaged with us and we feel like we can offer them a very competitively priced commercial cleaning opportunity that will then sort of give them the ability to support STEPS and our mission while also us delivering to them a much needed service.”

The goal of the grants is to create a situation that would provide and develop employment for persons with disabilities, according to STEPS Employment Specialist Ryan Sollett. While unemployment is up in the region, typically those with disabilities have a higher unemployment rate than average, even in good times.

STEPS put in two grant requests, receiving about $75,000 for the consignment shop, and $64,000 for the cleaning crew. The funds chip in for salaries for supervisors and equipment and STEPS will help with initial start-up costs.

At the end of the 18-month grant period, the two businesses are expected to be considered viable if they are providing a minimum of 80 percent of their operation costs. STEPS would take the responsibility of continuing to operate the businesses so that it would grow to the point where they become self-sufficient.

It is a new direction for STEPS. It has long operated manufacturing facilities in Prince Edward and Victoria (though the Farmville site is currently in hiatus and some workers have been shifted to the Victoria plant) and ventured into the secure document destruction business earlier this year with Commonwealth SolutionsVA.

That business, given a big boost with federal grant funding, has six workers, including three with disabilities.

“…We're not gonna abandon our manufacturing operations by any means,” Ms. Harrup said, “but this just seems to be a good move and a good direction for us to head in.”

The Businesses

The new store is expected to sell consigned ladies apparel as well as some new items-gift items as well as some jewelry. A soft opening is planned (though not etched in stone) around the first of December.

The aim is to have about five regular employees (those with disabilities) and three to five more to cycle through as trainees over the 18-month period of the grant.

The cleaning business aims to provide routine cleaning for small to medium office buildings and small retail outlets. It will be based out of Victoria and primarily serve Charlotte, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties, according to Sollett. He also added, however, they are available to service “pretty much all the counties that STEPS serves, which is pretty much the entire region.”

One that also includes Prince Edward.

They could provide day or evening service, depending on the wishes of the customer.

A customer service representative has been hired for the operation, Sollett reported, and they will be looking in the next couple of weeks to hire three individuals with disabilities to comprise the cleaning crew.

The goal is to hire and employ eight individuals with disabilities-having a static crew of about five.

Service could start by mid-November.