Encouraging business growth in rural America

A lot of the headlines these days — rightly so — highlight the growing pressure on rural America economically. It is no secret one of rural America’s greatest challenges is keeping youth in our communities. The high paying jobs more often than not are found in big metropolitan areas. Of course there are exceptions, but if you are a college student who has tallied up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, there is the cold hard reality that one must chase money in order to get back to even. This, in turn, leads to a lot of young people leaving rural America.

Also, with the evisceration of a lot of the traditional manufacturing sectors, local, good paying jobs are harder and harder to find.

But these are all generalizations. And, what can combat all these economic outflow trends, in our view, is entrepreneurship. The ability of individuals to find a business area that needs servicing can create a successful business, and it is possible to do it here. Graf Bros. is now an international supplier of white oak and other lumber. The owners took their experience in the family lumber business, set up shop in South Shore, Kentucky, and proceeded to create a business model that now — through its multiple business endeavors — employs hundreds of people. The commitment to creating a business and seeing it through right here in rural Eastern Kentucky shows us the many benefits of entrepreneurship for rural America.

Another example to be found is in Carter County. Robert and Jane Coleman created Smokey Valley Farm on Ky. 2. The gorgeous rural scenery provides a backdrop for the farm to breed gaited horses and to also set up a very picturesque Airbnb outlet that can draw horse enthusiasts from across the nation to the region.

The Tri-State needs to be thinking ahead on this front. What can we do to encourage more entrepreneurship like the examples cited above? Sizable sectors of Boyd and Greenup counties have been designated new business investment Opportunity Zones by the federal government, meaning those who invest in, start up or expand business operations in the zones will be eligible for significant federal tax breaks. Are there local resources that can be tapped to help facilitate such entrepreneurship and compliment the opportunity zones?

Part of the battle when it comes to growing a local economy is the belief that it can be done. Graf Bros. and Smokey Valley are reminders that, with some resources and commitment, the opportunities are right here waiting for us.

The Independent of Ashland