Sprocket: A place for innovation and creativity

Like many urban and rural areas across Kentucky, the United States and the globe, west Kentucky faces a technology workforce challenge. The challenge comes in the form of the lack of available technology talent for local and regional technology businesses. If our region can increase the technology talent pool, new jobs and increased opportunities would become available to our region.

Though the challenge is real and sometimes daunting, many efforts are underway across our region to impact positive change. While many communities are working to grow and recruit workers and businesses, urban areas are typically at an advantage because of their previously established innovative and entrepreneurial environments, as well as young professional support mechanisms. The established systems allow communities to grow talent and foster start-up businesses and entrepreneurship.

Several efforts have started over the last few years to help grow the innovative and technology sectors of west Kentucky. These efforts will allow west Kentucky to grow our own technology talent and support the technology companies that want to grow and thrive in our region. Over the coming months, I plan to use this column to highlight a few of these efforts. The goal will be to show how these efforts can influence change on the workforce challenge, impact your business and how you can get involved.

The first of these efforts is Sprocket, created in 2017 as a Paducah-based nonprofit based at the historic Coke Plant with a goal of retaining talent and growing interest and innovation in emerging technologies. I have had the opportunity to assist in its startup and truly embrace its vision.

Sprocket started with two primary goals: to support adults in Paducah who are interested in making and innovating and second to encourage youth to pursue careers focused on technology and innovation.

In pursuit of these goals, Sprocket has created a place where people can come to create and innovate. Specifically, Sprocket created a makerspace that allows for connections with people, experiences and opportunities. A makerspace is a place where individuals with shared interests can come together and work on projects while sharing ideas. Sprocket’s makerspace is equipped with 3D printers, CNC machines, computers and various other tools.

Paducah and west Kentucky are home to many individuals who have a product idea and dream of starting their own business, but need support in creating a prototype of their product idea. The needed support could be a piece of equipment the person doesn’t have, brainstorming help from others, or just some encouragement.

Sprocket was created specifically to help these individuals. If you have a business idea, but need a prototype created, you can come to Sprocket and get your prototype created. Even if you needed a CNC machine but don’t know how to use it, there are people that can help.

At the core of Sprocket is education. Education of our region’s youth is not only important to the future of our region, but it is a strong focus of Sprocket. In early 2017, the Paducah Public Schools received a nearly $4 million grant to support the creation of a new Regional Innovation Hub. The Innovation Hub is intended to be an innovative approach for technology education in K-12 education.

Sprocket will work with the schools to bridge the gap between traditional education methods and practical workplace experiences. Sprocket will work to help students, especially those living in poverty, by nudging them toward self-sufficiency through inspiring and training them with skills that funnel them toward gaps in the regional workforce. These efforts will begin to prepare the thinkers of the new economy.

What does this mean to you and your business?

If you have an idea, but need a little help creating your product or prototype, Sprocket could provide you the tools and space to work on the product.

If you are a creative person that likes to tinker and make things, but don’t have the money to invest in tools and specialized equipment, Sprocket could give you the equipment and space to explore your hobby.

If you are someone that has been able to make a professional career of creating and is now ready to pay it forward to the next generation of makers, Sprocket could offer a constructive avenue to mentor young innovators that will carry our region to its next level.

Sprocket Makerspace is still in its infancy, yet already making a positive impact on its community. To reach the long term and generational change they aspire to, Sprocket needs more involvement and your support. To learn more on how you can get involved, visit their website at sprocketpaducah.com.

Michael Ramage is the director of the Center for Telecommunications Systems Management (CTSM) at Murray State University and serves as the president of the Technology Council of West Kentucky. He can be reached at [email protected] or 270-809-3987.

Originally published in the Four Rivers Business Journal and available at http://www.paducahsun.com/business/journal/sprocket-a-place-for-innovation-and-creativity/article_129f138d-e5c1-506c-928c-79f96c24f6f8.html

Sprocket is the creation of TCWK Board member Monica Bilak who also serves as Sprocket's development director.

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