A faith-based economy for East Kentucky, part 2

Johnathan Gay

April 23, 2014

Recently, I proposed East Kentucky look into cultivating a particular aspect of its culture to grow our economy. The approach isn’t unusual: folks often talk about shine and feuds and local crafts as cultural-strengths upon which we can build local businesses. I proposed something a bit new: a focus on religious inspired entrepreneurship.

As I said in these pages, faith is a powerful thing in EKY. We have a powerful religious heritage, as evidenced by the thousands of churches dotting the landscape. How can we harness this passion to make our economy stronger? What role can religion and faith play in economic diversification?

The first element to creating an entrepreneurial cluster is the decision to proceed in that direction. A couple of entrepreneurs in Martin County are pushing in that direction. With the formation of Dream Martin County, talented entrepreneurs like Tim Robinson and Eric Mills are joining forces with local faith leaders to “declare a new war on poverty.” Early signs abound that these leaders will use entrepreneurship as a key weapon in this new war.

Readers of this column will know that I view entrepreneurship as, if not a cure all, then something mighty close. Entrepreneurship, of course, is the ability to create and maintain businesses. Per Wikipedia, “the process of identifying and starting a new business venture, sourcing and organizing the required resources, while taking both the risks and rewards associated with the venture.”

Entrepreneurial economies can be especially important in areas lacking established industries. Entrepreneurship puts a premium on execution over formal training and- at least at first- starting small. These factors make East Kentucky an ideal place for entrepreneurship.

In studying ways to create an entrepreneurial economy, experts have concluded there are several factors essential for success:

1. Passion: an area must be true to itself and have a passion for what it’s doing. The same can be said for individuals. They must be motivated!

2. Clusters: Increasingly, experts are recognizing the need for businesses to group together, work together, and grow together. Wikipedia describes it as follows: “a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated institutions in a particular field. Clusters are considered to increase the productivity with which companies can compete, nationally and globally.” Clusters can also support entrepreneurs by creating an environment where failure is acceptable, by creating moral support and encouragement, and by shining a light on the possible.

3. Entrepreneurs need education. Finance, business modeling, operations, HR, legal, intellectual property… these are, collectively, beyond the ken of most any untrained individual. Yet a successful entrepreneur will need to master all.

Consider the above necessities for an entrepreneurial area and how they could relate to our faith community. It’s passionate! Local networks (and corresponding national networks) would facilitate cluster-formation. Those thousands of churches … why couldn’t they also be labs for entrepreneurial education tailored to their audience? What impact could a passionate, networked faith-based community, focused on creating enterprises and new small businesses have in EKY? (To be continued …)

The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone. Johnathan Gay is the Director of the Kentucky Innovation Network office at Morehead State University. (www.kyinnovation.com) He provides free business consulting to entrepreneurs in East Kentucky.