May 22, 2009

A community's wealth is tied in large measure to its entrepreneurs, according to Ron Hustedde, extension professor in the Department of Community and Leadership Development in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Hustedde is the director of Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute, which is recruiting in 22 south central Kentucky counties for its next class of fellows

The institute is looking for 30 people who are interested in building entrepreneurial-friendly communities and coaching individual entrepreneurs. Hustedde said graduates of the program are passionate about helping their communities and find the work extremely rewarding. He encourages interested individuals from the counties of Adair, Allen, Barren, Butler, Casey, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Edmonson, Green, Hart, Laurel, Marion, Metcalfe, Monroe, McCreary, Pulaski, Russell, Taylor, Warren, Washington and Wayne to apply. Particular consideration is given to those from farm families, those who have started their own business or are recognized as leaders in their communities.

The program targets farmers who have lost tobacco income and still want to stay on the farm and develop some other type of business. But the coaching can apply to anyone starting any type of business.

"It is not the intent of the program to train entrepreneurs. Rather, fellows in the program will be instructed in coaching methods so that they can return to their communities with the skills needed to create support networks for local entrepreneurs," Hustedde said.

"My colleagues and I believe that if we invest in rural lay leaders - providing them with new skills and knowledge and expanding their network base - they can significantly influence cultural, political and economic changes in the region."

According to Hustedde, half of the jobs in Kentucky come from small businesses. During an economic downturn, such as the one the country is experiencing now, community and business leaders often search for new ways to revitalize a community's economy.

"We know that AnchorAnchor75 percent of new wealth creation comes from entrepreneurs, from innovators," he said. "They find new markets or new services, new products, new niches, and that leads to wealth creation."

Hustedde said that wealth generated in such a way typically spreads through the community.

"Entrepreneurs tend to stay in their community. They share not only their wealth by spending more locally, but they also employ local people. And in terms of philanthropy, they tend to give more to the local community," he said.

Those chosen for the 16-month training will receive a fellowship valued at approximately $18,000, which covers the costs of eight seminars, each lasting two to three days, and a week-long national study tour that will explore successful entrepreneurial ventures, youth entrepreneurship initiatives, and high growth entrepreneurs that have emerged in rural communities.

The current recruitment will fill slots in the fourth class of fellows. KECI graduated two classes in northeastern Kentucky before expanding into the south central region of the state in 2007. That class is due to graduate this coming fall.

The 30 fellows of the current institute in south central Kentucky have approached their new roles with great enthusiasm, Hustedde said. As groups, they used mini-grants of $1,000 to affect a wide variety of initiatives throughout the region. One group initiated youth entrepreneur projects in collaboration with high schools in Washington, Marion, Taylor and Casey counties. Another trained middle school teachers in the EntrepreneurShip Investigation curriculum. Other fellows launched entrepreneur resource centers in several counties, created an advocacy group to work with legislators to create entrepreneur-friendly policies and started a Youth Business Incubator.

"With the two south central Kentucky classes, we'll have about 120 people who will have gone through a very intensive process and will be involved in making change, of building an entrepreneurial-friendly culture," Hustedde said. "We think, with a critical mass of 120, we'll be able to influence policy in the state."

Melissa Knight, a fellow from Marion County who is in the current KECI class, believes entrepreneurship is the foundation of small communities.

"Many times entrepreneurs build these businesses from the ground up. They're family owned, and they stay around for years and years," she said. "So it's really important to foster entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial spirit, not just to start businesses but to start initiatives in communities, like revitalizing the downtown or reworking an old high school to make it a performing arts center. All of that goes back to entrepreneurial spirit, and I think it's absolutely vital to the success of small communities across Kentucky."

For information about applying to the 2009 KECI class, which begins in October, visit the KECI Web site at or contact Katie Ellis at 859-227-0911 or The application deadline is August 31.

News Topics: