I’m one of the biggest, most outspoken advocates of entrepreneurship in East Kentucky. I’ve consistently said that entrepreneurship is the way forward in our region. But what it entrepreneurship and why is it the best strategy for our region?
1 Wikipedia: a process of identifying and starting a business venture, sourcing and organizing the required resources and taking both the risks and rewards associated with the venture.
2 BusinessDictionary.com: capacity to develop, and organize, and manage a business venture and manage risks in order to make a profit.
3 Small Business Administration: An entrepreneur is a person who organizes and manages a business undertaking…Sees an opportunity. Makes a plan. Starts the business. Manages the business. Receives the profits.
The most successful enterprises in America were started by an entrepreneur. Think: Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company; Bill Gates and Microsoft; Joe Craft (a Hazard native) and Alliance Resource Partners; and, closer to home, Jim Booth. These men were/are highly successful businessmen and managers. They spotted an opportunity, started a business around that opportunity, successfully organized and scaled-up that biz, assumed the risks inherent in starting and growing it, managed it, and sustained it through tough times.
Notice what’s not mentioned: great ideas and money. With the exception of the single phrase “spotting an opportunity”; entrepreneurship isn’t simply about great ideas. The real work: exploiting the opportunity. Put simply, good ideas are a dime a dozen; in business, the profit is in the execution. Another word missing in the definition of entrepreneurship is money. Money is important, but if the profit is in the execution, you can bet savvy investors will jump in with the cash to back a properly executed and planned venture.
So what does this have to do with economic development in East Kentucky? Consider our choices: what would we need to have to create strong industrial recruitment effort? Highly developed industrial parks (read: expensive, taxpayer funded), flat land, and a workforce suitable for manufacturing (read: able to overcome the challenges of drugs, poor roads, low population density, and low educational rates) and incentives. Admittedly, overcoming these challenges was possible for the coal industry in the 90’s. But look at the average wage of the coal miners, and then look at the average wage of most manufacturing facilities. Tack on the problems of access, flat lands, expensive parks, etc and you see how difficult this becomes.
Now, look what’s need for entrepreneurship: innovative people (we have those in spades), broadband (it’s already available in most every town in EKY), and training. This should be our focus: training individuals to start, finance, and grow their enterprises. In a region full of economic developers and education agencies, this should be simple with the right priorities. To paraphrase the Bible, give a man a job and feed him for a day; teach a man how to make his own job and feed him for a lifetime. Entrepreneurship = teaches men and women to make their own jobs.
Johnathan Gay is the Director of the Kentucky Innovation Network office at Morehead State University. To reach Johnathan, please call 606-783-9536.