I spend a lot of time on these pages talking about ways to leverage our heritage to create new enterprises around things like moonshine and a history of feuds. I sincerely believe this history can be the basis for ventures that sell new products and create new attractions in our region.
At the same time, our region also has another heritage that economic developers shouldn’t dismiss: Our heritage of faith and religiosity.
Faith is a powerful thing in the mountains. We have a long history of widespread and diverse religiosity. Thousands of churches dot our area’s countryside. Some of the more successful rallies and movements in recent years have been born out of faith and prayer rallies.
The question that keeps running through my mind is how can we harness that tradition to make our economy stronger? What role can religion and faith play in economic diversification?
This has been an issue that’s been on my mind for some time. I work with one of the most successful faith-based entrepreneurs in the region, Tim Robinson. Based in Louisa, he combines faith, a powerful desire to help others, modern science, and the most up-to-date business methods to create a thriving network of drug rehabilitation centers across East Kentucky. Tim’s company runs modern rehab programs that are both faith-based and insurance-eligible at residential and outpatient sites around the region. Because of Tim’s faith and business acumen, he’s able to employ more than 50 people and help hundreds of addicts have another chance at life.
Naturally, Tim’s faith energizes him to do much more than simply focus on his business. He tirelessly courts leaders in the evangelical community to find kindred spirits with whom he can launch other projects. He recently helped launch a project to fight poverty in Martin County. This week, that group announced that on April 25, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is coming to Inez, the birthplace of the War on Poverty, to talk about a new way of fighting for the poor.
For an economic developer, the presence of a large group of passionate, successful people willing to work hard to change the region is exciting. Tim’s experience offers lessons. First, while his faith permeates his enterprises, the services he offers are salvation of a different kind. His services are medical and therapeutic. His is a social enterprise whose guiding vision is religious but whose products are secular in nature. Second, Tim has recognized the limitations of being a non-profit. The region is full of flailing non-profits who put possible grants ahead of potential profits. Tim has recognized that profits allow you to attract investors, and, in turn, to help more people. Most importantly, his business doesn’t let faith get in the way of offering quality services. That’s evident in the fact that the group’s methods allow them to take insurance.
Can this success be replicated by other passionate faith based entrepreneurs in East Kentucky? How? I hope to explore these questions in future columns.
Johnathan Gay is the director of the Kentucky Innovation Network office at Morehead State University. (www.kyinnovation.com) He provides free business consulting to entrepreneurs in East Kentucky. The opinions expressed here are his own.