Community Stories | Ecosystems + Economies

Focusing on Entrepreneurship Leads to New Businesses and Jobs in Eastern Kentucky

Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) is helping the region rethink its approach to economic development by empowering, training, and supporting local entrepreneurs.

Authors like Cormac McCarthy and J.D. Vance have used the written word to shine a spotlight on Appalachia. Politicians like Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson made Eastern Kentucky a focus of their effort to reduce poverty in America.

Now, Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) is helping the region rethink its approach to economic development by empowering, training, and supporting local entrepreneurs.  

Established in 2013, SOAR is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded as a network and platform for innovators, entrepreneurs, and community leaders who believe Eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian region have a bright future.

"We work in communities across the country, and we are deeply impressed with SOAR’s strategy and results." —Enoch Elwell, CO.STARTERS

SOAR is trying to create a future that depends on supporting, training, and developing entrepreneurs who can create economic opportunity in a region with abundant potential. Much of SOAR’s economic development strategy focuses on entrepreneurship. In 2019 the organization partnered with CO.STARTERS to launch six training cohorts for startups and existing small businesses in Hazard, London, Morehead, Prestonsburg, Pikeville, and Whitesburg.

Forty-five small businesses and startups took part in those cohorts, and participants in SOAR’s program immediately saw how they could maximize their economic impact on Kentucky.  

“Before attending CO.STARTERS, we started with a concept for a brick and mortar, old-fashioned candy store in downtown Pikeville. Instead, the CO.STARTERS model inspired us to be creative and develop a scalable e-commerce model that I believe will help us reach our original goal and beyond,” said Ruthie Caldwell, founder of Mr. Tibbs Trading Company. “Six months in, we’ve sold products as a pop-up booth at festivals to test and refine our concept, and now we’ve launched an e-commerce website shipping our product to all 50 states. Without CO.STARTERS we never would have considered e-commerce.”

“Before attending CO.STARTERS, we started with a concept for a brick and mortar, old-fashioned candy store in downtown Pikeville. …Without CO.STARTERS we never would have considered e-commerce.” —Ruthie Caldwell, Mr. Tibbs Trading Company

Entering 2021, SOAR will continue its effort with additional CO.STARTERS cohorts, including a cohort focused on female entrepreneurs.

“The year ahead is a great time for economic developers to focus on training the entrepreneurs who will create the Next Economy and high-quality opportunities our communities need,” said Enoch Elwell, founder and CEO of CO.STARTERS. “We work in communities across the country, and we are deeply impressed with SOAR’s strategy and results. That is why we are so proud to feature the organization in our upcoming webinar. There are lessons both rural and urban communities can learn from their success.”

CO.STARTERS will feature SOAR leaders in an upcoming free webinar, “Rethinking Economic Development: How SOAR is Training Entrepreneurs to Restart Eastern Kentucky” held on Wednesday, December 16 at 2 p.m.

Economic developers and ecosystem developers are invited to attend and learn how a collaborative, entrepreneurship-focused economic development strategy is making a real difference in Eastern Kentucky!

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