While many rural areas are struggling to evolve with the rise of technology and the decline of traditional industries, one community in west Kentucky is thriving. Madisonville is working to build an entire ecosystem focused on entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and collaboration.
Over the last few months, this column has been used to highlight several efforts around the west Kentucky region focused on growing technology.
First was Sprocket, a Paducah-based nonprofit created to support and educate those interested in innovation. Second, the WK&T Tech Park, in Mayfield, was created to grow the technology sector utilizing existing investment in our area. Third, the Technology Council of West Kentucky was created as a regional effort to support the growth of the technology sector across the entire region.
This month, Madisonville’s Kentucky Innovation Station is highlighted.
While Madisonville is located on the eastern edge of what you may consider west Kentucky, the effort is a phenomenal example of what a rural community can do to reinvent itself. With the leadership from Madisonville Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation (EDC), several challenges and opportunities were identified, including a declining coal industry and a changing labor force.
Understanding that it is their mission to serve as the resource and catalyst for sustained economic growth and development in Hopkins County, the Kentucky Innovation Station was opened in Madisonville’s old train depot.
Built in 1929, the old train depot is one of the landmark and most historic structures in downtown Madisonville. While it operated for four decades, it has been vacant for years and now has a modern purpose.
The Innovation Station was designed to encourage creativity, collaboration and most of all productivity. Ideal for entrepreneurs and those interested in co-working, professional space and resources are available to all using the space. While the Innovation Station is innovative, a user does not have to be from a high-tech sector. Members only have to be willing to work in a collaborative manner.
While the work area is helpful by itself, the novel approach taken by the Innovation Station is so much more than just the space. First, the Kentucky Innovation Station provides general business consulting to the members including business plan writing, market analysis, recruitment assistance, education services and more. The Innovation Station offers assistance in raising capital through advising on best practices for attracting investment.
Second, Innovation Station provides a number of educational activities throughout the month to its members. Each month, they host 1 Million Cups on the first Wednesday to hear from early-stage companies within the communities. There is a book club that meets at Innovation Station to support each other growing professionally. Innovation Station hosts a monthly learning series, where they bring in experts from around the region and state to help their members with various aspects of growing their business.
Third, Kentucky Innovation Station is just one stop in what could end up being an entrepreneurial and innovation district in Madisonville.
About a block away, the EDC purchased another building and is creating a new makerspace called Kentucky Movers and Makers with four goals:
(1) find people who like to create things, share ideas and collaborate;
(2) work on individual and group projects;
(3) educate and inform others who like to create something new or grow a new skill; and
(4) create a prototype for future entrepreneurs.
Equipment will include wood and metal saws, a plasma cutter, a computer-controlled router, a robotic arm, laser engraver, 3D printer and much more.
In addition to the makerspace, there is additional land that could be utilized to grow businesses. A business could literally begin in the Innovation Station to develop the business plan and get started. As it grows, the Kentucky Movers and Makers space will be available for them to develop their prototypes and products. Finally, when established and large enough, they could build their own space across the street, while still benefiting from the expertise available at each location.
To the surprise of no one, it is not free to remodel and open these buildings, obtain the equipment or provide the educational services.
The city/county, EDC and regional partners have made a significant commitment to focus on the entrepreneurial and innovative community within Madisonville and the surrounding areas. The project has received multiple external grants, as well as local investment dollars to get to this point.
With the vision and direction undertaken by the Kentucky Innovation Station and Kentucky Movers and Makers, the future looks very bright for Madisonville. To learn more about the Kentucky Innovation Station, visit www.kentuckyinnovationstation.com or to see the other efforts undertaken by the EDC, visit www.westcentralky.com.
Michael Ramage is the director of the Center for Telecommunications Systems Management (CTSM) at Murray State University. CTSM conducts research in the various areas of technology as well as serving as a liaison between the academic and private sectors to see that a sufficient technology workforce is available. He can be reached at [email protected] or 270-809-3987 for questions or more information.
Originally published in the Four Rivers Business Journal and available at http://www.paducahsun.com/business/journal/innovation-station-reinventing-madisonville-s-future/article_dab38968-2bcb-5cb0-95da-1444eb6ebca5.html.