When the economy plunged last year, throwing millions out of jobs, many decided to become entrepreneurs, launching their own businesses.

But good ideas and ambition aren't enough to make a business successful. Financial and marketing skills, strategic planning and other business know-how are crucial.

That's where the Entrepreneurial League System comes in.

ELS, created by New Jersey residents Thomas L. Lyons and Gregg A. Lichtenstein, teaches entrepreneurs how to grow their businesses, avoid making common mistakes, become aware of weak spots and find out how to strengthen them, and learn how to develop their businesses and set the goals.

An ELS round-table discussion is planned for 2-4 p.m. today at the Kovatch Training Facility, One Industrial Complex, Nesquehoning.

Lyons and Lichtenstein will speak at the gathering, Carbon County Economic Development Director Dawn Ferrante told Carbon County commissioners Thursday.

The session is for business owners – new and established – and community leaders.

One enterprising man who had been laid off from his job and plans to start a baking business will provide goodies for the participants to nibble as they learn, she said.

ELS is an endeavor endorsed by county commissioners, who Thursday announced their support for a grant application for $66,500 (with $3,500 in matching funds provided by the county Economic Development Corporation) to determine whether the program would work in the county. It would be administered by the CCEDC.

"This is a program that the commissioners would like to try (in order) to help small business owners in Carbon County," said Commissioners Chairman William O'Gurek.

The grant is highly competitive, but Ferrante believes the county has a good shot at it.

She said much of what CCEDC has to offer involves low-interest loans. But for many small businesses, loans – even low-interest ones – are a burden.

"Given the economic climate, a lot of companies can't take on more debt," she said.

But ELS, she said, "helps them on a day-to-day basis by coaching them."

Ferrante likened the business' status to a baseball team.

"Entrepreneurs are assessed, and then they are given a level: rookie, single A, AA, AAA. The whole process is to grow them to a higher level of skill," she said.

"It will try to make them all-stars," O'Gurek said. "It's really a genuine effort on the county and Dawn's part to try to do more for small businesses than what we've been able to do."

The funds come through the federal economic stimulus package, he said. "We are eligible as an applicant because we have been identified as one of the counties that has been adversely impacted by global competition – outsourcing, the out-migration of work and jobs."

The county unemployment rate was 13 percent in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's up from 10.7 percent in Feb. 2009.

ELS is established in "three other regions in the country, with a tremendous amount of success," Ferrante said.

About 35 entrepreneurs have added about 300 jobs over a three-year period in their communities through the program, she said.

Sales have increased an average of 41 percent under the program, she said.