East Kentucky should learn from, partner with other parts of Kentucky

Johnathan Gay

January 15, 2014

Some pretty neat things are afoot around KY these days. The new economy is taking a firm hold in metro areas and is even beginning to spread out into rural Kentucky. Eastern Kentucky is, not surprisingly, bringing up the rear. Without a major metropolitan center or transportation axis in and out, our region is denied many of the natural advantages that are propelling other places around Kentucky. But the good news is this: I have worked with people around the state engaged in growing their local economies and many if not all are open to collaborating with our region to share successes, build partnerships, and offer support and advice on what works and what doesn’t. Their motivations are varied. Most share a sense of kinship with us as fellow Kentuckians. Quite a few see economic advantages in partnering with us. Here a few examples of the things they’re engaged in that have partnership potential:

Ashland Angel Investor Network: This is a homegrown network in Ashland of wealthy individuals who come together to hear the ideas of area entrepreneurs. If they like what they hear, they have the opportunity to invest “equity” capital in the venture- in other words, they buy into the company rather than lend to the owners. Though a homegrown effort, led by Ashland native Mick Fosson of the local office of the Kentucky Innovation Network, and with support from Ashland Community & Technical College, this project has received inspiration from various angel networks around the state to include ones in Lexington (Bluegrass Angels) and Elizabethtown (Lincoln Trail Venture Group). The support of these more metro networks has been a key inspiration to the formation of the fledgling Ashland group.

Moonshine University: One of the panelists at the recent Shaping our Appalachian Region (SOAR) conference was Kris Kimmel of the Kentucky Science & Technology Corporation in Lexington. Somehow, there was discussion about creating some Eastern Kentucky energy behind a moonshine economy. Intrigued and always willing to help, Kris used his vast rolodex to contact the head of Moonshine University in Louisville, a program that offers educational programs in the craft of distilling, and arranged for an Eastern Kentucky, one day version that will introduce East-Kentuckians to the requirements of opening a small (legal!) distillery.

TechBase10: A network for web developers, software creators, hackers, computer geeks, app developers and more, this organization formed by the Kentucky Innovation Network offices at MSU and EKU has received strong buy-in from both inner-city and East Kentucky IT experts. Formed in August, the network has held several educational forums and will be hosting their latest on the 17th in Lexington on the topic of Bitcoins. Already, discussions are being held about how the network can create collaboration between rural and urban IT businesses.

The above is just a sampling of some of the ways the Kentucky Innovation Network is creating pathways between East Kentucky and the rest of the state. If you’d like to learn more, please contact me at j.gay@moreheadstate.edu.

Johnathan Gay is the Director of the Kentucky Innovation Network office at Morehead State University.