Whitesburg KY

Neon wants to ‘incubate’ business

While leaders in some eastern Kentucky cities appear content to wait on a “new Consol” to revitalize their economic picture, the City of Fleming-Neon is doing the opposite by teaming with Berea College’s Entrepreneurship for the Public Good (EPG) program to serve as an incubator for small business development.

Fleming-Neon Council Member Cheryl Furby gave a report from meetings concerning the new project during Monday’s October meeting of the Fleming-Neon Council and announced the city will begin its effort by working with a Berea grant writer to pursue a $10,000 planning grant aimed at developing new locally owned small businesses and growing those businesses already in place.

The city’s Economic Development Committee has decided to focus its efforts in three areas: City Beautification; ATV and Horse Trails; and Business Incubators. Furby said the city will work with the EPG to get new business startups going in Neon and to help existing businesses get grants and tap into available expertise to expand. Mayor Susie Polis said she will meet with the grant writer soon. Polis said she would like to have citizens’ input on what kind of city they would like to have.

“We’re going to try to get some things done,” said Polis. “Anybody interested in starting a business in Fleming-Neon should contact City Hall.”

The council’s decision came as the result of a report from Neon residents Doug and Debra Brink, who said at the council’s September meeting that the Berea initiative began as a summer program for college students in eastern Kentucky. Doug Brink reported that collaboration between economic development students at Berea College and the city could turn Neon into a business incubator with funds and expertise to develop small businesses in the region.

Brink said adventure tourism is one of the areas of interest and a number of funding sources are very favorably inclined to providing funding to make adventure tourism a viable source of business development in eastern Kentucky. He said the possibility of working with the city has generated a good deal of excitement at Berea. The council voted at last month’s meeting to send the Brinks and Neon resident Tony Brown to a seminar concerning funding possibilities at Berea’s Brushy Fork Institute. The Brushy Fork Institute has also provided funding to the Letcher County Tourism Commission to provide “apps” for smart phones to connect with historical and tourist sites in Letcher County.

In a follow up to Brinks’ report, Dr. Peter Hackbert, Director of Berea’s Entrepreneurship for the Public Good (EPG) program told the Mountain Eagle
that the Neon group and the Knott County Tourism Commission represent an emerging entrepreneurial culture not only in adventure tourism but also in general small business development in eastern Kentucky. Hackbert visited Neon earlier this summer along with the Berea students.

Hackworth said the Neon group approached Berea students working in the area and asked to become involved. A number of Neon residents participated in discussions on small business development sponsored by the Knott County Tourism Commission and the Entrepreneurship for the Public Good in the Berea College Idea Contest Awards Ceremony held July 28 at Kentucky River Area Development District offices in Hazard and several made proposals for start-ups in the Fleming Neon area.

The Letcher County partnership is the result of the Berea Summer Institute and is based on several ideas: Successful entrepreneurship requires a set of skills or abilities that can be learned; successful business ventures are a cooperative effort and not the result of a single individual taking the entire load upon themselves; and successful business development is an effort that involves an entire community.

By working with the eight counties that make up the KRADD, the Berea students hoped to attract potential clients with good business ideas to the events they hosted and to channel business energy toward the adventure tourism sector. Tourism is an $11 billion industry, and is the second largest in Kentucky.

City and county leaders in Letcher County are already enthusiastic about tourism, with efforts centered on the arts underway in Whitesburg, and both Jenkins and Fleming- Neon working to develop plans to join with the Letcher County Fiscal Court to further develop and exploit the system of ATV trails sponsored by the fiscal court. The Letcher County Tourism Commission is working with county and local efforts and has received over $40,000 in grant funding to develop a tourist economy in Letcher County.

The new ATV trailhead and RV Park located at Fishpond Lake in Payne Gap, which were both developed by the fiscal court, are the tip of the iceberg for adventure tourism possibilities in Letcher County. The court has also been involved in developing the Pioneer Horse Trail along the ridge of Pine Mountain and the Pine Mountain Linear State Park is already being used by hikers.

The purpose of the July awards ceremony was to pay tribute to the entrepreneurs that participated in the Knott County Tourism Commission and the Berea College Entrepreneurship for the Public Good Summer Institute in the months of June and July. Several Fleming Neon residents participated and entered ideas in the start-up and existing business categories.

Doug and Debra Brink of Neon placed third in New Business Start-up Ideas with their proposal for a Neon-based customer satisfaction cabinetry business. The Brinks have more than 50 years of combined experience in a similar business in Michigan, which was able to generate up to $50,000 a year, and they have existing orders for customized and special cabinets for kitchens, as well as desks and bathroom cabinets.

Doug Brink is also the founder and general manager of Edge Business Incubator, a non-profit organization based in Neon which will target entrepreneurs from Neon first and will expand its activities to the eight counties of the KRADD area. The primary objective is to aid entrepreneurs to start businesses with the proper technical, managerial and financial assistance. Edge Business Incubator will be part of the National Business Incubator Association, a family of more 1,100 successful business incubators throughout the USA supporting 27,000 start ups every year.

Paul Whitaker and Nick Whitaker made a proposal for East Kentucky ATV Adventures, an adventure tourism business which will offer visitors and ATV enthusiasts from the local market everything they need for an extended ATV adventure. The business will be located at the trail head of the new Letcher County ATV trail and will be the first of its kind in Letcher County. East Kentucky ATV will off er specialized services in ATV tourism including a place for customers to fuel up and repair their ATVs and park their vehicles, and a small mom and pop diner that will be built into the main building. East Kentucky ATV proposes to take advantage of 500 miles of pre-existing ATV trails that connect Harlan, Letcher, Knott and Pike County.

Pearl Goode of Neon submitted a proposal to expand the Neon Electric and Furniture Company, which she owns and manages. The business currently off ers appliances, furniture, miscellaneous products such as fittings for pipes, and books and repairmen for appliances. Goode wants to expand her business by enrolling an electrician and a plumber, both certified by the State of Kentucky, as well as a plumbing supply house.

Tony Brown of Neon would like to start a store named Brown’s Feed and General to supply quality feed for animals such as horses, cattle, goats, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, and rabbits. It will also supply basic plumbing and farm supplies such as PVC pipe, water lines, fence posts, fence wire, gates, buckets, and straw.

Brown’s store will deliver loads of feed or farm equipment to customers within a 20 mile area. He said the closest feed store to Neon is in Pike County, about 40 miles away, and there are only three feed stores within a 60 mile radius of Neon, none off ering delivery. Brown is currently employed as a construction supervisor.

Other ideas from around the region include an internet café in Hazard and a number of horse related businesses in Knott County aimed at taking advantage on the many horse trails in the county. Hospitality business proposals include a restaurant expansion in Leslie County with The Kudzu Corner’s Annual International Cook Off , a Sunday bi-monthly cook out festival in downtown Hazard, and a cabin rental business in Knott County.

Community partners include KRADD, Knott County Tourism Commission, Kentucky Highland Investment Corporation, Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation, The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development and Hyden Citizens Bank.

In other council business, the council voted unanimously to renew the city’s franchise agreement with Intermountain Cable of Harold. Heath Wiley of Intermountain visited the meeting and told the council the company will make every effort to provide quality cable and Internet service to the city.

Water and Sewer Superintendent Carlos Phillips reported that water supplies in both city wells are holding up well and he said he doesn’t foresee any shortages, even in the midst of a very dry spell of weather. Phillips said he is switching from the main well to the auxiliary well to allow each to build their water supply back up but that both are doing fine. He added that water losses are about the same as they were last month, with maybe a percentage point diff erence in either direction. Last month’s water loss was 32 percent.

Council member Furby asked about sewer odors in Fleming and Phillips said they were the result of low flow and no rain. He said that at present, there has been almost no infiltration of rain water in sewer pipes so all that is in the pipe is actual sewage. The lack of flow causes the odors and he said the smells are coming from vents. Phillips said nothing can be done until there is more rain or more water running through the pipes to move the sewage along.

Ken Taylor of Kenvirons, a Lexington engineering company working with the city on the Haymond Sewer Project, said the Haymond work is going well with about 150 – 160 new customers on board at present. Taylor told the council the project should be finished within six weeks and no complaints from Haymond residents were reported at a recent progress meeting.

Councilman James D. Collins reported that the city’s Halloween Safe Night will be held Saturday, October 30 at the city stage area on Main Street and will last from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., the same hours as Trick or Treat.

The council also discussed ideas about getting rid of standing water in the old Hazen’s lot and sealing the stage lot.

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