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Richard Branson: Going Local on Job Creation

NEW YORK ( TheStreet ) -- The U.S. may have failed to create even one new job in August, but Richard Branson is hoping to create a plethora of jobs in underprivileged nations.

The tycoon launched his second Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Thursday in Montego Bay, Jamaica, following the successful track record of his center in Johannesburg, South Africa, which was established in 2006. Branson's goal is to help mentor entrepreneurs, to teach them how to funnel their ideas and creativity into a business and to help regenerate their country's economy.

"Nineteen out of 20 businesses fail when young entrepreneurs sort of set them up from scratch," says Branson. "By people having mentors and by having someone to hold their hand their chance of success is that much greater."

Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group, whose non-profit arm, Virgin Unite, will run the center in Jamaica while Virgin Holidays, a long haul operator, is the lead sponsor contributing $3.5 million over 10 years. Fourteen individuals were selected with the goal of creating a business geared towards helping the local community, like restoring coral reefs and recycling waste.

The program is free for participants, excluding travel expenses and a $500 application fee. Branson's center in South Africa has mentored 4,000 people and nearly 100 businesses have been hatched between 2006 and 2010, according to the center's Web site. The center also has funded 15 businesses, 11 of which are still operational, and has created 146 jobs.

"I think it's been a tremendous success," says Branson of the Johannesburg his center, "but there needs to be thousands more of them."

Jamaica is next on Branson's list as the country's labor market suffocated. According to a Labor Force press release for January 2011 from the Statistical Institute in Jamaica, the most recent data available, the work force grew 0.7% from a year earlier and 2.4% sequentially with 1,269,900 employed. The unemployment rate was 12.9%, down 3.8% from a year earlier, but up 9.7% sequentially. Youth unemployment is stable but radically high at 30.5%. The institute said a new survey might be released later this year as soon as it gets labor data from the Census report.

Branson hopes to change those statistics.

"I know there are entrepreneurs within the Caribbean who felt that Jamaicans have even less help than someone in America has," says Branson. "Of our entrepreneurs, many are women and they tend to be of a younger crowd," although Branson's goal is not to specifically favor these underrepresented demographics.

The desire in Jamaica is there and growing. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, total entrepreneurial activity in Jamaica was at 23.6% for 2009. The new business ownership rate was up 49% compared to 2008 while early stage activity was up 45% and the nascent, or budding, entrepreneurship rate rose 44%.

Potential jobs creators just need an extra boost. The report labeled Jamaica as "a stand out country where very few nascent and new entrepreneurs (around 5% or less) anticipate creating a business of significant size." Small businesses are the lifeblood of any economy with the ability to create two thirds of all jobs and Jamaica needs these new entrepreneurs to deliver. Branson says the center will be filming every person that comes to speak to the program and posting the video on in hopes of reaching a wider audience.

The U.S. with its own 9.1% unemployment rate and 14 million people without jobs, could learn a thing or two from Branson and his center.

"In most businesses, something like 20% of people who don't want to actually work 11.5 months of the year, they would actually like to work 6 months of the year and job share with someone else," argues Branson. "The companies should encourage that to happen ... and in that way you could get most of the people out of work back into the work force."

Branson, who is happy to set up shop in the U.S. if someone was interested in starting a program, thinks a president can set the rules to create a work environment like the one he outlines.

Maybe Congress and President Obama should pay attention.

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-- Written by Alix Steel in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Alix Steel.
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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