There was an inconvenient truth voiced at our Entrepreneurship & Workforce in a Rural Community conference last month.
“Our No. 1 export for most of our rural counties is … what?” asked Jasper Welch, one of our guest speakers at the Oct. 18 event at Kentucky Innovation Station.
“It’s our kids.”
There were some chuckles in the room when he said it—but not because what he said was absurd. Just the opposite, unfortunately.
“That’s our No. 1 export,” said Welch, a management consultant and former mayor of Durango, Colorado. “We’re shipping our kids out. We’re shipping our talent out.”
It stings because we know this to be true. Many of us living in small towns such as Madisonville have even actively contributed to the trend, telling our kids from a young age that the definition of success is to leave home and thrive elsewhere.
That’s a shame. It’s bad logic, and its harm to a community like ours is enduring.
In celebration of Global Entrepreneur Week Nov. 12-18, we’ve been learning more about our local small-business operators. One of the interesting things to hear about is why they find Madisonville to be the right place for their businesses.
For example, Sherri Buchanan spent much of her career in insurance before opening Catering and Creations in 2013. The business started in a small space on Seminary Street, then moved into an event venue that can serve 150 people at 3295 N. Main St. and has subsequently added the C&C Express food truck.
“I think our timing has been really good,” she said. “One thing is that this community has allowed us opportunities to experiment a little with our ideas before making large investments in them. So, for example, we took the food truck out to county-fair events and gradually grew into the decision.”
Buchanan also mentioned a gathering commitment in Madisonville to support local entrepreneurs.
“And another factor is I-69,” she said of the upgrade of the Edward T. Breathitt Pennyrile Parkway from Nortonville to Henderson to interstate standards in 2013. “When that was first being talked about, I didn’t really expect much impact because it was utilizing the same roadway. But the increase in traffic has been significant already, and I think we really only have started to see the effects. It has made Madisonville more of a central location to the entire region, and that is changing things for businesses.”
POLICOM Corporation creates economic-strength rankings for all U.S. micropolitan statistical areas. In announcing its annual rankings in January this year, the analytics firm wrote, “The rankings do not reflect the latest ‘hotspot’ or boom town, but the areas which have the best economic foundation ... The study measures twenty-three different economic factors over a twenty-year period. The formulas determine how an economy has behaved over an extended period of time.”
What’s the takeaway of the data? I am encouraged.
The truth is that we will always have improvements to make if we are to make our community a more appealing place for people to stay in or move to. Shortages of housing at several income levels, day-care options and medical specialists are among our current challenges.
But the truth also is that Madisonville is becoming a quantifiably more and more attractive place to live and open or go to work for a business—big or small, in a widening range of industries. POLICOM’s economic-strength rankings factor data points such as the number of jobs, earnings for wage and salaried workers, per-capita personal income, market conditions per industry segment (such as non-farm proprietors, construction and retail) and per-capita welfare and medical assistance of a given area. The numbers show that Madisonville’s economic fundamentals are competitive and improving.
We need to make sure that the story we are telling our kids is up to date with that new reality.
Ray Hagerman is president of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation (
), which promotes and recruits commercial enterprises that offer quality jobs and encourages expansion and retention of existing businesses.