07 Apr

In the words of Thomas Edison, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  Those simple words should be a reminder to the hardworking people of the mountains that they truly are a diamond in the rough, a diamond ready to be cut and formed into a fine diamond with the skilled hands of all of the entrepreneurs and hardworking talented people of the region.

So, the rhetorical question which necessarily needs to be asked and answered is where do the people of Eastern Kentucky begin their journey into a future of economic freedom, a future which can no longer rely on the coal jobs of the past?  One thing is certain, the journey to economic freedom will not be easy, but Eastern Kentuckians need to understand that they can no longer rely on the coal severance tax dollars of the past, millions of which were literally stolen from the region by greedy politicians to funds projects which never contributed anything to the economic stability or success of the region.

One such former diamond in the rough, a diamond which has been cut and formed into brilliant and priceless settings, settings which have contributed to the region’s success is the University of Pikeville.  From its very beginning in 1889 as Pikeville Collegiate Institute, to its designation as the University of Pikeville in 2011, and finally with the creation of the Coleman College of Business in 2013, the leaders of the university have been on the forefront of creating economic prosperity in the region.  Instead of sitting back and allowing the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs to abandon the region, university leaders have created educational programs which contribute and define the future economic prosperity of Eastern Kentucky.

So, what else can be done for the economic future of Eastern Kentucky.  At the risk of oversimplifying the challenges which lie ahead, it is time for the University of Pikeville to partner with the United States Small Business Administration and create a full-time office, not simply an office in partnership with the University of Kentucky, or some other state university.  Instead, it is time for a full-time partnership which would serve the needs of Eastern Kentucky through the eyes of Eastern Kentuckians.  Maybe, just maybe, the next announcement from the leaders at the University of Pikeville could be the creation of a Masters Degree in Entrepreneurship and Small Business, a program which would prepare the next generation of Eastern Kentucky business entrepreneurs and leaders with the skill sets necessary to create small businesses, businesses which are the foundation of America’s economic success in the world.

Many do not realize that the U.S. Small Business Administration has designated 26 counties in Eastern Kentucky as HUBzones.  As such, the federal government has an annual goal to award at least three percent of all federal contracting dollars to HUBzone-certified businesses each year.  Imagine the untapped billions, yes billions of dollars which could flow into the region’s small businesses in Eastern Kentucky under the program.  Business leaders of today, and of the future, need to tap into these dollars, dollars which will fuel Eastern Kentucky’s economic future and recovery.

There is little doubt that if Eastern Kentuckians could tap the resources of the U.S. Small Business Administration in conjunction with the University of Pikeville, including access to business planning, micro-loans and the other resources which are already available, the problem which Eastern Kentucky will face is how to slow down the region’s economic growth, growth which will be fueled by the region’s hardworking people of the mountains, people who are the region’s thousands of diamonds in the rough, diamonds ready to be cut into brilliant faceted gems, gems which contribute to the region’s economic prosperity for generations to come.

In the end, one thing is absolutely certain, the Appalachian corridor of Eastern Kentucky has the human resources, the thousands of diamonds in the rough with the ability to one day become the model of economic success not only for Kentucky, but for America.  Instead of the ridicule and scorn for the people of Eastern Kentucky, it is time to debunk the old stereotypes, it is time to show the rest of America what the hardworking, talented people of Eastern Kentucky, and Appalachia, can do and have always done throughout the history of the region. 

To borrow from the words of General Colin Powell, "There are not secrets to success.  It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure." The time has come to move forward, the time has come for the hardworking, talented people of Eastern Kentucky to embrace all that the region has to offer; it is time to unleash the region’s potential; it is time to abandon the old and move forward with a renewed can-do spirit, a spirit which has defined Eastern Kentucky throughout its history.

Mark Wohlander, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, practices law in Lexington, Kentucky and throughout the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.  Other of Mark’s columns and Liberty prints are available at www.fivesmoothstonesky.com.

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