Locals learn to launch new businesses

Work Certified Academy course helps local residents plan businesses

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John Rudland and Michael Fragello both aspire to be entrepreneurs, but their business dreams couldn’t be more diverse.


Rudland, 43, who recently lost his job as a customer service representative for a business machine company, is hoping to raise alpacas at his Avella farm.


Fragello, 58, who works in business operations at engineering software firm Ansys Inc., is pursuing an idea for an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar similar to the one that he and his wife recently visited in Florida.


What’s been bringing to the two men together is a month-long course known as “The Creative Self-Employment Initiative Program” offered by the Work Certified Academy and sponsored by the Washington Greene County Job Training Agency Inc.


The initiative is funded by Washington County’s Local Share Account, which provides money for economic development and community projects from a portion of gambling revenue from The Meadows Racetrack & Casino.


Since late October, Rudland, Fragello and a dozen other local men and women have been meeting on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the academy’s classrooms in the Crossroads Center on Beau Street in Washington to learn about the process of becoming entrepreneurs.


According to Betty Mugrage, the academy’s trainer and job developer, the course is free to anyone who works or lives in Washington County.


“It’s open to people who work or live here, or have a business, but don’t know how to grow it,” Mugrage said. It’s also open to people who are out of work and looking to become self-employed, she added.


Attendees hear from a group of professionals who conduct the training. They include those from the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center; Pitt’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence; a senior loan officer from the Washington County Council on Economic Development, as well as professionals who provide information on legal, accounting, payroll, tax and insurance issues associated with operating a business.


On the final day of class, participants will present their business plan to the SBDC for critique.


At the halfway mark of the course, Rudland and Fragello are pleasantly surprised at what they’ve already learned.


“I’m pretty amazed at the resources that are available,” Rudland said, noting the depth of the expertise offered by the various speakers.


Both men said they’ve already learned ways to market their proposed businesses, how to use social networking to further promote their endeavors and how to write the business plan they’ll need if they want to pursue financing.


They also think Washington County is ready for the types of boutique-style businesses they’re hoping to launch.


“We think Washington County is ripe” for an olive oil-tasting bar that would appeal to gourmands and home cooks alike, said Fragello, who said he can see such a business operating at the new town center project being constructed in Southpointe II.


“I’m encouraged by the good things that are happening in Washington County,” he said.


Apparently so are the other men in women in the class who range in age from 25 to 50-something and are vetting business ideas that range from website development to a nonprofit that resells prom dresses. Other proposals include a runners’ specialty store, an art and greeting card store focused on Washington County themes, a safety consulting business and an auto repair shop.


Mugrage said a similar program was offered by the academy several years ago that produced at least one successful local business, Toffee House, a homemade candy production and retail shop that has grown since its inception.


Myra Bernhart, vice president of programs at WGCJTA, said that while the current program is considered to be a pilot, plans are in the works to offer it again in the spring, based on the initial turnout for the fall course.


“It’s gone very well with its recruitment effort,” she said.


For additional information on Work Certified Academy’s Creative Self-Employment Program, call 724-225-2551.


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