Ashland Alliance

Kentucky intensifies efforts to assist small businesses, encourage innovation

FRANKFORT, Ky. – With a growing list of business friendly initiatives, Kentucky is accelerating efforts to become a national leader in startup activity and a hotbed of innovation.

Among plans to focus on small business, entrepreneurship and related job creation in the commonwealth, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development will increase assistance to startups and add to available capital by attracting more private-sector investors.

A first step in the process involves the Cabinet’s Office of Entrepreneurship assuming direct management of the Kentucky Innovation Network, previously administered under contract by the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation. The move reflects the Cabinet’s redoubled effort to encourage innovation and streamline its response to the needs of businesses. In coordination with the 12 regional Innovation Network offices, new leadership in the Office of Entrepreneurship will marshal available private sector, Cabinet and state resources to get new companies off the ground and growing rapidly.

Terry Gill, secretary of the Cabinet, said supporting ingenuity is a vital part of the state’s economic growth strategy, which also includes targeted investment in people and programs that have the biggest impact.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation are part of the lifeblood of any economy,” Sec. Gill said. “Kentucky’s claim to the title of the nation’s manufacturing and engineering hub will be created by innovators and risk takers. We want to help clear the landscape of obstacles and encourage entrepreneurs to think big, so Kentucky becomes recognized as a place to ignite great ideas and grow strong companies. Hiring talented people with proven records of starting successful businesses to lead our Office of Entrepreneurship speaks volumes about our Cabinet’s commitment to serving the state’s small-business and entrepreneurial community.”

Vivek Sarin, the Cabinet’s executive officer, said the Governor and many in his administration bring personal business experience to their posts.

“Our team is determined to make Kentucky a top location in America for people to turn their business plans into reality,” Executive Officer Sarin said. “Gov. Bevin, Sec. Gill and I share backgrounds in business and entrepreneurship as does our leadership in the Office of Entrepreneurship. Each of us understands what it takes to not only get a company off the ground, but make it successful, and will continue putting those experiences to use on behalf of the state’s entrepreneurs. For many of the same reasons Kentucky is an ideal place for some of the world’s top corporations, we can help it become a hotbed for people who want to invent, take risks and establish themselves as pioneers in their fields.”

Brian Mefford, hired in January as executive director of the Cabinet’s Office of Entrepreneurship, said the Kentucky Innovation Network will provide fuel for startups that have powerful growth potential.

“Ultimately, we have to renew our focus on innovation that leads to high-growth, scalable businesses,” Mefford said. “Bringing the Kentucky Innovation Network into the Cabinet allows us to harness the great entrepreneurial energy in this state and take ownership of the powerful potential that holds for our economy. The network fits perfectly with our mission to grow innovation, commercialization and entrepreneurship. The Bevin Administration understands the possibilities for optimizing and leveraging the existing statewide network – making it easier to accentuate our strengths across the state and share ideas that will blow up barriers.”

In addition to attracting and retaining major companies from around the world, the state has zeroed in on the chance to become a national standard for thriving startups. 

Statistics show America’s workforce and entrepreneurship indicators stagnated in recent decades, with company formation at half the level of 40 years ago. The opportunity to help lead the resurgence of business creation in both Kentucky and the US prompted Cabinet leadership to ramp up its entrepreneurship efforts.

Like Gov. Matt Bevin, Gill and Sarin, Mefford brings a background in launching innovative companies and leveraging public-private partnerships. He founded and served nearly a decade as CEO of Connected Nation Inc., an internationally recognized broadband services firm. He later founded CNX, an offshoot of Connected Nation, where he led the development of a patent-pending software platform that allows government entities to partner with broadband service providers to share assets, information and processes to accelerate fiber broadband and 5G network growth.

Mefford said Jason Rainey, newly appointed deputy director of the Office of Entrepreneurship, will play an important role in overseeing the network. Rainey, who previously worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration Small Business Development Center in Kentucky and the USDA Rural Development, joined the office at the beginning of February.

Information on Kentucky’s economic development efforts and programs is available at www.ThinkKentucky.com. Fans of the Cabinet for Economic Development can also join the discussion on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ThinkKentucky or follow on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ThinkKentucky. Watch the Cabinet’s “This is My Kentucky” video on YouTube.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development is the primary state agency responsible for encouraging new jobs and investment in the state. New capital investment announced in Kentucky in 2017 totaled a state record $9.2 billion, spurring more than 17,200 projected new jobs.

The Original Star of the Tri-State Region

Join The Alliance