November 6, 2014 | By: Roberta Meisel

In April 2014, the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, in partnership with the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky, launched the Grow Kentucky program and received overwhelming interest from across the state. The center and initiative are part of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Grow Kentucky is part of the national Economic Gardening program, sanctioned by the Edward Lowe Foundation, to assist small businesses with expansion. Typically a region’s economic growth is based on attracting new large-scale companies, often via offers of tax incentives and workforce development services. By contrast, Grow Kentucky focuses on aiding established growth-oriented companies with strategic issues such as developing new markets, refining business models and accessing competitive intelligence. Small businesses with longevity and a goal to expand are often referred to as second stage businesses. Such companies generally engage 10 to 99 employees and generate from $1 million to $50 million in annual revenue.

Jamie and Steve Bryant, owners of B-Books, a book packaging company based in Covington, were among those with a piqued interest in the new program. The Bryants’ company had the potential; it was direction they needed.

“As a small business with a small staff, we are often so focused on execution that, despite our best intentions, we are unable to map a clear path to growth. Even when we know what we want to do, we often lack access to the information that will help us make the best strategic decisions,” Jamie Bryant said.

Knowing that information is the new currency of economic development, the Grow Kentucky network provides advanced business intelligence tools that second stage companies often can’t afford. Program specialists assist in the five key areas: core business strategies, strategic market research, social media marketing, search engine optimization and targeted marketing lists.

“Our business is unique in that it is comprised of very different parts. We publish Kiki magazine for tween and teen girls, and we develop educational products—books, workbooks, assessments—for major U.S. academic publishers. Through the Grow Kentucky process, we’ve started to get a real sense of how to develop each side of the business and how and where to invest resources,” Jamie Bryant said.

Grow Kentucky specialists act as a team to aid companies in identifying issues that are hindering their growth and connect them with new tools, concepts and information for making decisions that lead to successful expansion. Open communications are essential during the initial meetings between entrepreneurs and specialists. By learning the owners’ backgrounds and goals, company structure and growth issues, specialists can provide actionable information for the businesses. There is constant contact throughout this ongoing relationship which leads to the other key component of the program—speed—and getting the answers business owners need in hours versus days or weeks.

“Since our start in the program, we’ve gained a better understanding of how to use specific information to make better strategic choices. It’s important for us to understand where the best opportunities are, so we can focus our efforts appropriately. The Grow Kentucky program is helping us do that—and do that better than we have in the past,” Jamie Bryant said.

Nationally, Economic Gardening client companies have averaged a 20 percent positive revenue growth as a result of their participation in the program A typical program engagement takes from four to six weeks and is usually conducted through face-to-face meetings and/or teleconferencing.

“We’ve derived tremendous benefit from the program, and we’re only part of the way through it. We would tell another small-business owner considering the program to sign up right away, so they can gain access to the information and tools usually just out of reach and learn how to put them to good use. Then that small business can grow into a midsize one!” Jamie Bryant said.

The Kentucky Small Business Development Center is a partner program with the U.S. Small Business Administration. To learn more or to apply to the Grow Kentucky program please visit the KSBDC website,


Gordon Garrett, 859-257-6957