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Building Resilient Communities Takes a Network: Group Shares Success Stories, Resources, and Opportunities to Connect

Guest post by Jacqueline Corum and Donna Daniels, Brushy Fork Leadership Institute at Berea College

For the past three years, communities and service providers in eastern Kentucky have been building community-driven, regional infrastructure to promote a resilient economy. What’s Next East Kentucky?! (WNEKY?!) is a network of communities and regional partners (or service providers) focused on collaborating and building relationships to support a thriving Appalachian Kentucky. During the pandemic, the network has hosted Community Connections, virtual gatherings on topics such as supporting small businesses, reopening regional tourism, and “building back better” after facing a setback to community development. During the next year, WNEKY?! will create a toolkit that curates economic development resources. This toolkit will include resources from regional partners and expertise from peer communities with successful economic development experience. WNEKY?! connects Kentucky communities from Grayson to Pikeville to McKee, highlighting and celebrating the on-the-ground work local people are accomplishing and making connections with resources to amplify that work.

WNEKY?! Community Member Spotlight: Greg Lakes, Clover Bottom Bed & Breakfast

Greg Lakes, co-owner of Clover Bottom Bed & Breakfast in Jackson County, Kentucky, has shared his expertise with others and connected with resources through the network. Greg became involved in WNEKY?! after working with his local Energizing Entrepreneurial Communities (E2C) group. Through the network, he discovered the Mountain Association’s Kauffman FastTrac business program and its How to Airbnb training. One thing he appreciated about the resource is how it helped him apply his background to his real-life situation. Greg said, “I came from a business background, but it was completely different to apply those skills to be an entrepreneur.” Mountain Association also helped Greg develop a website for his business, something he found particularly helpful as a retiree who didn’t have experience creating a website. Greg believes that “retired people have a lot of skills and experience to offer, but they’re intimidated by the technology piece and need support to help them to jump in, become an entrepreneur, and make a difference.”

Though naysayers didn’t believe that a bed and breakfast in Jackson County would be successful, Greg’s success—driven by research, business planning, and connecting with regional resources—has proved them wrong. And Jackson County is now home to more than 30 Airbnbs. Greg hopes to use his experience as a successful business owner and connection to WNEKY?! to support Jackson County’s community vision of becoming a thriving tourism destination. With support from WNEKY?! regional partner Vallorie Henderson of the Small Business Administration of Kentucky, Clover Bottom Bed & Breakfast will host a craft fair on June 12 to showcase local talent and raise money for the local tourism commission.

WNEKY?! Regional Partner Spotlight: University of Kentucky’s CEDIK

The Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) at the University of Kentucky believes that engaged communities lead to vibrant economies. To that end, CEDIK provides many resources to support community and economic development, community leadership, decision making, and collaboration, including those that will be included in the curated WNEKY?! community toolkit. For example, in collaboration with the Kentucky Association for Economic Development (KAED), CEDIK has launched the Kentucky Economic Recovery and Resilience Project to accelerate the commonwealth’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and to enhance economic resilience. The current phase of the project gives Kentucky enterprises access to SizeUp Kentucky, a market research and competitive analysis tool.

Want to know more about WNEKY?!

Any community in or agency that serves Appalachian Kentucky can join WNEKY?! in its efforts to foster a stronger economy in the mountains. From helping identify success stories in communities to highlighting economic development resources to seeking community input on policy issues such as the Community Reinvestment Act, you can play a role in building a resilient future for generations of people from the region.

Jacqueline Corum and Donna Daniels are program coordinator and director, respectively, for Brushy Fork Leadership Institute at Berea College. The institute, whose mission is to strengthen local and regional leadership in Central Appalachia, is a partner of Policy Summit 2021 on June 23–25. Register now.

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