LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) top business development official, Lillian Salerno stepped into the Kentucky Highland’s Innovation and Commercialization Center in London Wednesday, to see first-hand the Obama Administration’s ongoing efforts to address occupational challenges in rural America.
“This was my most impressive place I’ve seen in my tenure in my role,” Salerno, acting administrator for Rural Business-Cooperative Services said. “As a nation, we’ve got to grow this section of industry for job growth, in order to make our economy strong.”
There are currently more than 10 small business owners utilizing the center as they share not only technologies but also ideas and services. Individuals within the center range from a patent attorney, graphic design artist, CPAs, and a non-profit, among others. The facility was built with a 10-year, zero percent interest rural economic development loan and is in its second year running.
Bill Schutters, center director, said it’s a business accelerator model commonly used in an urban setting. Struggles common to small business owners within rural areas include access to capital, leveraging relationships and finding an affordable space to grow.
Jeff Campbell, executive director of Kentucky Rural Health Information Technology (KRHIT), has been a resident for almost a year. He uses the facility’s technology to host telemedicine conference calls.
“From a cost perspective, this was fantastic,” Campbell said.
Campbell is currently utilizing a USDA grant of $86,000 to help clinics offer behavioral health assistance to areas that lack a provider and digitalize medical records for rural hospitals.
“When folks work together for a common goal, you’re much better off than if people are in silos. We can learn something in Washington from working together,” Salerno said.
Fern said President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have committed to use Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for business, entrepreneurs and working families. More progress has been made in the last four years getting broadband and fiber optic services in rural areas, he said.
In 2012, the USDA awarded $750 million in loan and grant dollars in Kentucky. With those monies, more than 4,000 low income families were offered affordable housing and basic municipality services were provided to rural communities at reasonable rates, Fern added. Rural Development has more than $181 billion in loans and loan guarantees, assisting rural America through housing, business and community infrastructure programs.
To learn more about the London Innovation and Commercialization Center, visit kyinnovation.com.