Trying to start a carpet and upholstery cleaning business in an area of 22 percent unemployment ''was pretty tough,'' comments Dennis Pittser, of nearby Bridgewater, Pa. ''Just establishing contacts with people was hard because there are so many laid off here.''
But seven months ago, Mr. Pittser and his brother scraped together $2,500 to invest in cleaning equipment. He says he appreciated help from a local carpet seller who referred the brothers to his customers. And Pittser went to his father-in-law for advice, too - ''he's been self-employed for years.''
The Pittser brothers are an exception in this area. Starting your own business has not been a popular out for many unemployed steelworkers. ''It's a big step. You put a lot of thought into it before you commit yourself. Once you start, there's no turning back.''
He got the idea from another relative who cleans carpets in Pittsburgh. The brothers try to concentrate on commercial clients, ''but you've got Sears to compete with,'' Dennis says. Business is seasonal, he says, and he's found he has to rely mostly on residential work. People giving parties, wedding receptions at home - those are the kinds of events that spark his business.
With a wife who works and three children, Dennis Pittser decided to start the business because ''you reach a certain point, I don't know whether it's the male ego or what, when you have to do something. I'm never going to get rich off it, but it's a way to make a little bit of money.''
And it's a way to learn more about running your own business. Eventually he wants to become a computer software consultant. In the fall he'll continue his training at the Community College of Beaver County, using his veterans' benefits.
The money's not rolling in, but Pittser still thinks there are advantages to being your own boss. ''You get to build and make your own decisions. You decide how much of yourself you're going to put into it. You can see the outcome of your own work.''
Other workers who turn down the idea of starting a business ''don't see far enough along the road. They are looking for the short-term effect, rather than the long run,'' he reasons. ''I think we have to be realistic. The mills will never come back to the point where they were before, and we have to decide to stand on our own.''