umeployment-startup.jpgMost people know the unemployment department (or department of employment security in some states) as a place out-of-work people go to try to find another job. But in our current recession, some unemployment offices are offering something else: training on how to start your own business.

The Self-Employment Assistance Program was spawned with the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but has gained more steam in recent years. The idea was to help "dislocated" workers whose industries were in decline, where they were unlikely to get another job in their field. Sound familiar?

States' participation in SEAP is voluntary, and only eight states are currently participating--Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington. The program allows those who enroll to draw their unemployment check while they train in business ownership instead of scouring the streets (or internet job boards) in search of work.

It's no surprise that interest in the program has picked up in the past year, at least in some places. Oregon told the Associated Press recently that demand rose 75 percent this year, and 600 people have taken the business-owner training so far this year, while Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey reported enrollment had declined.

The program is not without controversy. The National Federation of Independent Business objects to using tax funds to help new entrepreneurs start businesses that will compete with their members' established companies.

Not all who take the training do start businesses, but one small study of Oregon's program showed about two-thirds of trainees successfully did start mostly one-person businesses.

If your state doesn't participate in SEAP, and you're unemployed but hoping to start a business, call your legislators and see if you can turn the heat up to encourage your state's participation.

In the meanwhile, look around for other free and cheap business-training resources. There's always the SBA's Small Business Development Centers and SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives--both great places to find training classes, and knowledgeable people to help you develop your business skills or a new business idea.

If you know about other good training resources for would-be small business owners, leave us a comment below.