At Ft. Knox Summit, Veterans Learn How To Become Entrepreneurs Thursday, Oct 20 2016 

Brenda Coates is close to retirement, and she can’t wait to get her startup ideas off the ground.

Coates, 60, moved from Fort Carson in Colorado to Vine Grove, Kentucky five years ago after her husband retired from the Army. She wants to start a transportation service to take people without vehicles to places such as health food stores and the mall. Coates would also like to open a healthful living resort, where visitors can come weeks at a time and enjoy massages, cooking and nutrition classes.

“I already have a business plan,” she said.

Coates was one of dozens of attendees at an entrepreneurial summit this week for vets and their families. She said she learned about things like venture capital and business loans.

The Ft. Knox summit called “Turning Your Great Ideas Into Gold,” was organized by the Kentucky Innovation Network, which is partly managed by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. The goal: to give veterans the tools they need to start their own businesses.

Charley Jordan, an active service member and a farmer, spoke at the event. He’s retiring in July 2017. He said the transition from the military to agriculture is a natural one. He said it makes sense that veterans would want to take care of the land.

“They are so willing to work hard, they wanna continue to serve their country,” he said.

The government has offered to help these aspiring farmers. The 2014 Farm Bill created $9 million for assistance to veteran farmers, as well as minority farmers and ranchers.

Lisa Boone, director of the Kentucky Innovation Network branch in Elizabethtown, wants to encourage those who are transitioning out of the military to move back to their home state.

“We want to tell them and encourage them to stay here in Kentucky,” she said. “This is a great culture for entrepreneurship.”

Other programs exist — including money for the GI Bill and education benefits, which can be used to get a degree or certified credential.  But If you’re more of the enterprising type, you can’t use that money to start a business.

Evelyn Ellis, Chancellor of Western Kentucky University’s campus in Elizabethtown/Ft. Knox, was one of the hosts of the summit. She’s a self-described military brat; her father was a veteran of the Korean War.

She said some service members don’t want to go to school but they do want to start a business.

“In recent years, there has been some discussion within the military community as to whether they should continue with the GI Bill or the educational benefits as they’ve been in the past,” she said.

Ellis sees an event like the summit as the beginning of a conversation to this problem. She said if the GI Bill ever changes to allow service members use the money for a startup, attendees at events like these will be ready.

“What we want to do is be at the cutting edge and help transformation occur,” said Ellis.

Kentucky Supreme Court Strikes Down Louisville Minimum Wage Ordinance Thursday, Oct 20 2016 

The Kentucky Supreme Court has struck down Louisville’s minimum wage ordinance in a 6-1 decision, saying that the city doesn’t have the authority to set a minimum wage above the level set by the state.

Passed in 2014, the Louisville ordinance would have gradually raised the minimum wage to $9 an hour by July 2017. The rate was bumped to $7.75 an hour in 2015, and increased to $8.25 an hour starting July 1 of this year.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Bill Cunningham, said that businesses can’t be required to pay workers a higher wage than the minimum set by the state.

“In other words, what the statute makes legal, the Ordinance makes illegal and, thus, prohibits what the statute expressly permits,” Cunningham wrote in the opinion.

The Kentucky Restaurant Association and the Kentucky Retail Federation sued Louisville over the ordinance, saying that as a local government, Louisville can’t violate a “comprehensive scheme” of state employment laws by raising the minimum wage.

A Jefferson Circuit Court judge ruled the city could raise the minimum wage, but the business organizations appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.

Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, called the ruling a “big setback for the tens of thousands of hard working, low wage Kentucky workers scheduled to get much-needed raises that would boost their families and local economies.”

“It is now up to the General Assembly to take action when they next meet to correct this injustice and ensure more Kentuckians who work can meet their basic needs,” Bailey said.

The Democratic-led state House of Representatives passed a minimum wage hike during the last two legislative sessions, but the bill has been a non-starter in the Republican-led Senate.

The bill would have increased the minimum wage Kentucky businesses could pay employees from $7.25 to $10.10 over the course of three years.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sam Wright said he saw no conflict between the ordinance and existing minimum wage laws.

“The language establishing a minimum wage does not, as the majority asserts, amount to something expressly permitted by the statute being prohibited by the ordinance,” Wright wrote.

“The statute requires an employer to pay a wage of “not less than” the amount set by statute. This statute was passed to protect workers from being paid a lesser wage. The majority’s view is that the statute expressly permitted the employer to pay the minimum. This reading of the statute requires a view that it was passed to protect the employer. The majority’s conclusion is inconsistent with the purpose of the statute and its history. There is simply no conflict between the two laws.”

The Lexington City Council also voted to raise its minimum wage last year to $10.10 an hour by July 2018.

Ford To Temporarily Idle Louisville Plant, Others Tuesday, Oct 18 2016 

Ford is temporarily idling four North American plants, including one in Louisville, in response to slowing demand for new vehicles.

The company has scheduled one-week closures this month for its plants in Kansas City, Missouri, and Hermosillo and Cuatitlan, Mexico. Those plants make the F-150 pickup truck, the Fusion sedan and the Fiesta subcompact.

Ford Motor Co. will close its Louisville, plant for two weeks. That plant makes the Ford Escape and Lincoln MKC small SUVs.

After six years of growth, U.S. demand for new vehicles is slowing. So far this year, overall industry sales are flat compared to 2015.

Ford says the cuts won’t impact its financial guidance, and still expects a pretax profit of $10.2 billion this year.

New Lobbying Group Hopes To Protect Ft. Knox From Cuts Tuesday, Oct 18 2016 

Community leaders have launched a $2.5 million campaign to spur growth in central Kentucky, including the Fort Knox area. The new group, called the Knox Regional Development Alliance, held a launch event last week at the Grace Heartland Church in Elizabethtown.

The startup capital will be used over five years. Part of the money will be used to hire staff, including a full-time executive. The KRDA hopes to attract and retain business related to defense.

“We want to make sure we’re lobbying the right folks in Washington D.C. and in Frankfort to make sure that we are protecting and preserving the asset of Ft. Knox,” said Dennis Johnson, president and CEO of Hardin Memorial Health and co-chair of of the campaign. “We just can’t take anything for granted.”

Johnson said he didn’t want to paint the picture that Ft. Knox is the only valuable asset in the region but he said it is an important one.

“It’s one of those big assets, that along with the other assets, make this a great place to live, a great place to work, and a great place to what I call ‘doing community,” he said.

At the time of reporting the organization raised $1.6 million since spring, from 45 major contributors including: Ft. Knox Federal Credit Union, Hardin Memorial Health, and Swope Family of Dealerships.

In Kentucky, E Is For Envelopes Saturday, Oct 15 2016 

Airheads…charcoal…Hot Pockets…   It’s Manufacturing Month in Kentucky.

The state Cabinet for Economic Development has launched a social media campaign to celebrate — A to Z — products that are made in the Commonwealth. So far this month, we’ve learned (or have been reminded) that Kentucky makes Airheads candy, duct tape, and Hot Pockets.

There’s another product the state produces that we can’t live without – envelopes.

Maynard Benjamin is a renowned envelope historian and head of the Envelope Manufactures Association. His journey to the sleeves that hold our coveted messages started as a kid when he used to collect Civil War letters.

Before we go any further, Benjamin wants to get one thing out of the way. Here’s what he says you should know about the sticky stuff that you lick on the back of envelopes:

“The gum, not glue, the gum is not made out of horse hooves, it’s made out of sugar and starch,” he says. “I just don’t understand where people come up with these things.”

In Kentucky, companies such as Western States Envelope and Label, and Papercone employ almost 200 people. But Benjamin says the sector is much bigger than that.

“The paper-based communication chain is as large as the oil and natural gas industry, is as large as the airline industry,” he says. “Airline industry may have more jobs than we do but the asset value is similar.”

Benjamin says there are more than 125,000 jobs just in Kentucky related to envelope manufacturing. That includes printers, mailing room operators, and truckers. If you add together all the jobs related to the industry, he says, that amounts to a sales revenue of about $7.5 billion for the state.

As for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s social media campaign for Manufacturing Month, they are currently up to the letter J, which stands for Jif Peanut Butter made in Lexington. Here’s the list so far:

A: Airheads candy (Erlanger)

B: Brakes (Elizabethtown, Walton, Danville)

C: Charcoal (Albany, Burnside, Summer Shade)

D: Duct tape made by Berry Plastics (Franklin)

E: Envelopes (Erlanger, Louisville)

F: Filtration products made by C.I. Agent Solutions (Louisville)

G: Gorilla Glass, a brand of specialized toughened glass used in smartphones (Harrodsburg)

H: Hot Pockets (Mt. Sterling)

I: Iodine (Covington)

J: Jif Peanut Butter (Lexington)

A Nation Engaged: For Immigrants, Is Homeownership The American Dream? Friday, Oct 14 2016 

This week, we’re participating in a national week of conversation along with other NPR member stations called A Nation Engaged. It’s a coordinated conversation around a topic, and the goal is to get a wide variety of voices answering the same question.

We’re asking: What does it mean to be American? And what could the next president do to advance your vision?

A Nation EngagedNPR |

Homeownership is a dream not only of U.S. born citizens but of many who arrive here from other countries. In Kentucky, more than 26,000 immigrants own their homes. 

Bhim Koirala, 36, is giving a tour of his three bedroom home in Louisville. As he walks around, the wooden floors creek. His wife, Deuka, gets their two kids ready for a community festival about 10 minutes away.

Koirala has owned his home for about a year. His house is about 1,700-square-feet, not including the unfinished basement. In his Hikes Point neighborhood, he’s close to shopping and restaurants, including Kathmandu Kitchen and Bar and Namaste Grocery. And he’s a far cry from the cramped refugee camp he stayed in for 18 years in Nepal, a detour from his native Bhutan.

“One of the American dreams is to buy a house,” he says. “And buying a house to me also means to be free.”

Immigrants contribute up to $5 billion to housing wealth in the state, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy.

“One of the things that we know is that immigrants tend to push up the home values, certainly over the long-term but many cases also in the short-term,” says Emily Brandon of Greater Louisville, Inc. Brandon works with workforce and talent initiatives and focuses on Louisville’s global population. 

Brandon says when immigrants move in there’s a blossoming of diverse businesses and restaurants. And that can drive economic growth in neighborhoods.

“All of that can really drive the quality of life, the vibrant communities, the walkability of neighborhoods, the people being out and about,” she says.

And when immigrants put down roots, it pays off for Americans. A report from the Americas Society and Council of the Americas says that if the U.S. welcomed 100,000 new immigrants each year, housing values would grow by as much as $80 billion annually.

“Once they’re here, they have a positive experience, they’re buying into the American dream,” Brandon says. “They are wishing to pursue homeownership and they tend to want to put down roots. This is an opportunity for us.”

Brandon is talking specifically about Louisville, but it could be an opportunity for the Commonwealth as well. About 160,000 immigrants live in the state, or about four percent of the population. An increase in the state’s population could mean more economic growth, not just in homeownership, but in entrepreneurship, education, tax contributions and the workforce.

Koirala is also a member of the Bhutanese Society of Kentucky. They meet on Thursdays at the Buechel Park Baptist Church. One of the other members, Vinod Poudel, says he associates homeownership with identity.

“I believe, like among many Bhutanese, it’s that theme of identity,” Poudel says. “We lost our homes in Bhutan. We lost our identity and became refugees. So after coming to the U.S., being able to buy your home is, I think, a regaining of our self of identity.” 

Kentucky Labor Secretary Pushes For Apprenticeships To Train Workforce Wednesday, Oct 12 2016 

Kentucky’s labor secretary is trying to get more employers to offer apprenticeship programs that provide employment and on-the-job training for new workers entering an industry.

There are currently about 1,100 employers that have registered apprenticeship programs in Kentucky, employing about 3,000 people.

Derrick Ramsey, secretary of the Labor Cabinet, said apprenticeship programs will help train Kentucky’s workforce and attract new businesses.

“’If we do not have skilled workers, I don’t think businesses are going to move here,” Ramsey said. “And by the way, in most cases with businesses, they don’t want to come here and then train that worker, they want to have them trained before they come here.”

Apprenticeship programs combine on-the-job training with formal instruction and usually last four years. Employers work with the Labor Cabinet to design the training program and sign a contract with each apprentice — the contract is registered with the state and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Apprentices have to receive a minimum of 144 hours of related classroom instruction each year they participate.

“What this will allow is for not only young people, but people who want to get back into the workplace to come in there and earn not only a good salary, but rather than have a job, have a career,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey said apprenticeships could help train a workforce to rebuild the state and nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

The legislature set aside $500,000 for the apprenticeship program in this year’s state budget. The program also received a $200,000 federal grant to promote the program and encourage more diversity in apprenticeships.

Those who want to participate in apprenticeship programs have to have a high school diploma or GED.

A Nation Engaged: Are Immigrants More Entrepreneurial Than Americans? Tuesday, Oct 11 2016 

This week, we’re participating in a national week of conversation along with other NPR member stations called A Nation Engaged. It’s a coordinated conversation around a topic, and the goal is to get a wide variety of voices answering the same question.

We’re asking: What does it mean to be American? And what could the next president do to advance your vision?

A Nation EngagedNPR |

There are almost 8,000 self-employed immigrants in Kentucky. And in 2014, immigrant-run businesses in the commonwealth made more than $300 million in income.  

Fernando Martinez came to the United States from Cuba in the 1990’s on a raft he built. His long journey took him to a refugee camp at Guantanamo Bay and then to San Diego before he finally settled in Louisville in 1996.

Martinez opened Havana Rumba in 2005, and now owns seven restaurants in the city. He says America means freedom, liberty and opportunity. He says the next president needs to go back to those ideals.

We spoke with the restaurateur about why many immigrants open restaurants and what entrepreneurship means to him.

On opening his first restaurant:

“I remember waking up in the morning having panic attacks and throwing up in the shower. Because here I had nine years of my life, sacrificing my wife, my mom, my kids. And I had the responsibility of opening a new business. I remember opening the restaurant and looking at the bank account and having $3,000 left. That was it. That’s all we had.  And for the first two weeks we had three, four, five tables a night and those $3,000 went like that. But we were lucky enough that our first review, I think it was the Courier-Journal, their headline was, the writer wrote ‘I’m smitten by this small Cuban place in St. Matthews.’ The next night we had an hour wait. And it was like that for the next five months.”

On why immigrants are more likely to open businesses:

“Most immigrants come from a place of having no opportunities to having all the opportunities. For the first time in my life, when I came to the States, I had total control of what I was gonna do with my life. I didn’t have that before. Before everything was decided (for) me by the government. Owning a restaurant, what I thought about politics. So when you’re put in a different situation, I mean, it’s easier for you to see opportunity.”

On what entrepreneurship means to him:

“I think people are born entrepreneurs. I think there’s something inside you – it pushed to get up and do something. Everything that had happened to me has been a learning experience. You know, those panic attacks. You know, I learned how to, because, you know, I never had to deal with that pressure. So now instead of getting worried, like I used to do, I find solutions. And that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. You have to be really good at fixing problems because that’s what I do every day.”

Black Business Owners Talk About Why Entrepreneurship Is Important Thursday, Oct 6 2016 

As the University of Louisville-Clemson football game was played last weekend, dozens of attendees ate, drank and filled the Green Building in NuLu for the culmination of Diversity Pitch Fest.

But this wasn’t just a party. The all-day event, hosted by the Kentucky Chapter of the National Black MBA Association, aimed to build connections and capital for business-owners of color.

Angelique Johnson was one of the attendees. She’s founder of a medical device startup. She makes implantable electronics that treat neural loss and dysfunction. Johnson now has enough funding to bring on five employees.

She said Louisville is a great place for a company like hers.

“Louisville kinda has very affordable facilities but at the same time, they’re very high-tech facilities,” she said. “We have all the equipment we need access to.”

But Johnson said the city also presents some obstacles.

“There’s challenges in finding engineers that are homegrown in Louisville to work for your startup,” Johnson said.

For African-Americans, Johnson said barriers arise even before they think about starting a business. That includes barriers in education. She had the additional challenge of being an African-American woman in engineering.

“But those challenges made me more resilient,” she said. “One thing about doing a startup company is you gotta get used to failure. And the challenges you go through as an African-American prepare you for that resilience, that drive. So it works for your benefit.”

A more tangible obstacle to entrepreneurship for blacks is money. Johnson said often, investors who fund companies invest in people, rather than the product or the company.

“And when they say they invest in the people, a lot of times that relates to the people they know and they’re comfortable with,” she said.

Johnson said if most investors are white males, as a black woman, her odds of getting financed decrease. She also said it may not necessarily have to do with racism.

“I don’t travel in the same circles as them,” she said of many investors.

The city recognizes these challenges as well. Later this month, District 4 councilman David Tandy is organizing the second annual Minority Business Fair with Fourth Street Live.

“I think the biggest obstacle for minority-owned or women-owned businesses is simply access to contacts, access to decision-makers,” Tandy said at a news conference in September announcing the fair.

Demetrius Gray, a contractor who specializes in roofing and large span skylights, plans on sending some of his staff to the city’s Minority Business Fair.

“The reality is though, if you’re going to do something like that, have contracts for people,” Gray said. “Really be serious and be very genuine in your effort to help minority businesses in this community.”

Monique Quarterman was co-organizer of Diversity Pitch Fest. She said while African-Americans have long contributed to the labor force, there’s something distinctive about entrepreneurship.

“Business ownership for the African-American community is really power in the greater community, power when it comes to economic stability,” she said. “There’s something special about everyone in the community having an opportunity to be an employer.”

Besides, there are other reasons to start a business.

As Angelique Johnson, founder of the medical startup, said, “you can be the next Bill Gates. Like Beyonce says.”

Thinking Of Starting A Business? New Data Point To Elizabethtown Tuesday, Oct 4 2016 

Shane Howard loves Elizabethtown.

He says living in Elizabethtown — just 45 miles south of Louisville — allows him to remain in close proximity to a bigger city without having to deal with city problems like rush hour traffic.

He’s only 35 minutes away from downtown Louisville. Arguably, Howard says, for someone living in the East End, it can take them the same amount of time to get to downtown. But the cost of living in Elizabethtown is much cheaper.

“The new restaurants popping up, new entertainment things, sports bars and those things popping up, it’s becoming more and more attractive,” he says.

Howard is founder of Custom College Recruiting. The service matches high school student-athletes abroad with sports scholarship opportunities in the U.S. He founded the company in 2009 and received funding in 2014. Prior to that, he bootstrapped. But Howard said he knew if he was going to expand his business from something he was doing at home alone on his couch, he was going to need help.

“I can make a great living doing that, don’t have to worry about the overhead and employees and all that fun stuff,” he said. “But I knew that if I wanted to take this business where it could actually go, it was going to take a little outside funding.”

For those eyeing a similar entrepreneurial path, Elizabethtown could be the place. The city topped‘s list of metro areas with the fastest-growing rate of new startups or companies less than a year old.

The Whole Picture

But before we get too excited, let’s do the numbers.

According to 2014 data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Elizabethtown had 179 startups out of almost 2,000 total businesses that year. Startups accounted for nine percent of Etown’s total firms in 2014. That’s a 4.3 percentage point increase since 2009, or post-recession.

While the data is positive, with 179 new startups, we probably shouldn’t crown Elizabethtown a bastion of entrepreneurship just yet. Especially if you compare it to St. Louis, which came in second for the city with the fastest-growing rate of startups. The Gateway City had almost 5,000 startups, out of more than 50,000 total businesses. Startups were 9.7 percent of all businesses, but only accounted for a three percentage point increase since 2009.

And Kansas City — ranked 12th in the country — had more than 3,000 startups in 2014 out of approximately 36,000 businesses. Startups there made up 8.4 percent of all businesses but that amounts to only a 1.1 percentage point increase since 2009.

Why Elizabethtown?

Still, when comparing the numbers by percentage points, Elizabethtown is number one. And there’s a lot of help for people who want to start businesses there.

Steve Wright is a member of the Lincoln Trail Venture Group, an organization that funds startups. He says most of the businesses he’s pitched are technology-based or service-oriented.

“We’ve seen very few hardcore products, where someone’s going to build or manufacture something for sale,” he says. “Most of our members in our Lincoln Trail Venture Group and a lot of people downtown are first -generation business owners.” 

There are other groups in the area that help big dreamers get on their feet, like the Kentucky Innovation Network, which is part of the state Cabinet for Economic Development. The organization has offices throughout the Commonwealth.

Elizabethtown chapter director Lisa Williams says they host events such as Startup Garden, where attendees can network and hear success stories of fellow entrepreneurs. Williams says one example of an Elizabethtown startup success story is Schedule It, a provider of scheduling assistance for firms such as insurance carriers.

“She raised a million dollars in one week,” Williams says of Schedule It founder, Rebecca Wheeling.

Other Kentucky metro areas that made the list include Bowling Green and Lexington-Fayette County.

Louisville did not make the list but had almost 1,400 startups out of more than 20,000 businesses in 2014. Startups made up about 6.7 percent of all firms in the city. That’s a 0.2 percentage point increase since 2009.

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