Eastern Kentucky, like much of Appalachia, is beset by high poverty and high unemployment, and the limited investment in the area from the state hasn’t changed the situation.
But a new contest offers an award to the university that can create a plan to redesign economic development in Appalachia. The contest is sponsored by Alltech, a Lexington-based global health and animal nutrition company. It was announced by Alltech president Pearse Lyons last week. Starting in November, teams from the business schools at the Universities of Kentucky, Louisville and Pikeville will compete for a $20,000 prize.
Their task will be to design the best economic development plan to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in Eastern Kentucky. University of Pikeville president and former governor Paul Patton says the idea is to tap young talent, in hopes they’ll think of a new solution for the area.
“Well I’ll be blunt. When I was governor and most of my tenure up here, I had been thinking of manufacturing jobs,” Patton said. “And I am coming to the conclusion that that’s probably not going to be happen. And so we have start thinking of other kinds of activities.”
Patton says with modern communication technology, there are lots of industries that could thrive in Eastern Kentucky. He says the region already has an abundance of low-wage service jobs, and still some higher wage jobs in coal mining. But there’s a need for a more robust middle class.
“We don’t have that middle wage, 30, 40, $50,000 job in abundance that most of the rest of the state has,” he said. “So if we could shoot for those kinds of jobs, it would fill in a big gap.”
The competition will run from November until January of next year, when the students will present their ideas to a panel of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.