Connecting companies to global markets – one click at a time

January 23, 2017

Sheryl Crow, The Fray, coal-mining businesses, e-commerce and London, Ky. – at first glance, it doesn’t seem like they fit together. But that’s Symbiosis Media Group. It’s a fitting name because the meaning of symbiosis is a mutually beneficial relationship among different people or groups.

Partners Jef Powell, Jason Hoskins and Greg Kitzmiller are a reflection of that. Powell moved to his wife’s hometown of London Kentucky to open a coffee shop. Before that, he was a producer and music engineer for those well-known artists as well as others, such as Usher. Hoskins worked as a project manager for global companies, including HP and Pfizer. Kitzmiller has done web design for nearly 20 years and also is a musician.

They opened the Symbiosis Media Studio to offer Marketing services , Web site design work, and record area musicians.

Then Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) was looking for a web developer as part of a grant to help coal-related companies diversify. Symbiosis was awarded the contract, and its web business took off. In order to interface more effectively they moved their offices into the Kentucky Innovation Center London office, where Kitzmiller previously had his graphic design business since 2011.

Symbiosis has helped several companies diversify and harness the power of e-commerce to do so.

“We have worked with a group of companies directly related to the coal industry that went from the phones ringing off the hook with business to nothing,” Kitzmiller said. “They had to realign their customer base, which had been 80 percent coal. We’ve helped them showcase their products and services online. A lot have embraced the idea. It was a gamble for them because they didn’t understand at first how to find a new customer base.”

Kitzmiller said a lot of the companies are parts or components suppliers that needed to find other commercial markets for their businesses.

But a large number of artisans such as authors, crafters, painters and photographers also are learning how e-commerce can help their businesses through events such as the Selling to the World Expo in Middlesboro.

“People just need to be pointed in the right direction of how to get started and what the cost and implementation plan look like,” Kitzmiller said.

Symbiosis still has its music studio, but also conducts web-based seminars on e-commerce and provides social media and marketing services as well as video production. Its newest venture will be a three-part e-learning course this spring that focuses on e-commerce, marketing and social media. “Business owners often can’t take off work during business hours, so this seminar series is geared toward being able to complete it whenever it’s convenient for them” Kitzmiller said.

CrossFit HardCharger building community fitness

It’s more than a gym. It’s a community. At CrossFit HardCharger in London, members don’t show up, put their headphones on and work out. Crossfit2

They become part of a community that trains together, pushes each other to achieve goals and celebrates everyone’s accomplishments. That may be why owner and London native Jacob Floyd hears success stories from members who range from military veterans and public safety officers to residents ranging in age from 12 to 70 years old. As a result of their workouts, some members no longer need their cholesterol or high blood pressure medicine. Others lost 10 pounds and inches from their hips during a seven-week fitness challenge.

“We take it back to the basics,” said Floyd, who played football at North Laurel High School and University of the Cumberlands before serving two tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the Marine Corps. “It’s more like an old-school gym and is geared toward the military, law enforcement and fire fighters, but it also is for anyone looking to improve their health, regardless of their size or fitness level.”

CrossFit Level 1 coaches guide each member through every workout, ensuring safe and proper movements to prevent injury.

Members of CrossFit HardCharger have placed second in two regional competitions. Floyd said he was proud of their performance, especially since the gym has only been open since February and was competing against other, well-established facilities.

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation provided the working capital to establish Floyd’s business and worked in conjunction with The Kentucky Innovation Network (KIN) in London, which it also administers.

“NCrossfit3ot only does CrossFit HardCharger employ six people, the gym is helping improve the health of our residents – two excellent benefits to the community,” said Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of KHIC. “Helping small business and entrepreneurs is the key to economic growth, which is why Kentucky Highlands offers technical assistance as well as loan programs such as our micro-enterprise and small business loans.”

Floyd discovered CrossFit while living in Bowling Green. When he moved back to London, he found there weren’t any CrossFit gyms in London or nearby communities. Floyd said that although he never imagined he would own his own business, he loves what he does and hopes to expand to two other locations in the area, such as Clay County, in the next several years.

The Path of A Successful Entrepreneur

EIEASpeechFrom diesel mechanic to entrepreneur – that’s the road Garry Conley took to becoming a Minuteman Press franchise owner. It may seem unexpected to some, but that’s what is great about entrepreneurism. There is no set path to success.

And Conley’s success has been realized through growth in his Minuteman Press franchise in London as well as his recent honor of receiving the 2015 Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award in the for-profit category.

Conley has seen his business grow from three employees when he started in 2004 to a staff of eight. And his plans for growth continue

“We went from one offset press to being able to do so much now, from digital printing and direct mail to promotional products,” Conley said. “We create complete marketing plans that help our clients get the most out of their promotional products campaigns.

“Our immediate plan is to continue to market, add employees and services and probably a second shift. We want to become a Million Dollar store. Only 10 percent of the businesses in our market reach the million dollar annual sales threshold, and we are knocking on the door right now. We are also toying with the possibility of opening a second location in another city.”

Some entrepreneurs are made by choice, others by necessity. With Conley, it was a little of both. He knew in high school that he wanted to be an entrepreneur but didn’t take the plunge until frustration with his job and employer made him rethink his career path.

“I have always wanted to own my own business and chart my own destiny,” Conley said. “When I was 8 years old, I ordered assorted greeting cards out of Boys Life magazine and sold them door to door. I did not know it at the time, but I was a capitalist and proud of it. I started selling newspapers when I was 10. I bought my own bicycle, paid for my own repairs, bought a motorcycle at 15, a car at 16 and paid my own way through the Nashville Auto Diesel College. I enjoy being around people and helping them solve their problems.  In high school, I thought I would own a diesel shop. Even though that never happened, I never got away from the dream of being in business for myself.”

EIEAConley turned to Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation for help through its microloan program.

“KHIC has been instrumental in keeping our dream alive throughout the downturn in the economy,” Conley said. “In the beginning of 2008, we were having record-breaking sales, but by the end of the year, sales were cut almost in half, and we wondered what hit us. We kept thinking the next month would be better, but it was actually 16 months before we saw signs that the economy was improving. Having a microloan from KHIC made the difference between staying in business and closing the doors. They believed in our ability to service our customers and pay off the debt and that is the main reason we are still here today.”

Farming fuels healthy lifestyle, passion for sustainability

August 26, 2015

Farming fuels healthy lifestyle, passion for sustainability

1st SOAR farm loan goes to Laurel County farmer

For Melanie Gross of Laurel County, the farm has created a healthier lifestyle, fueled her passion for sustainable local food and provided her with a potential new career. MelanieGross

She became the first SOAR Small Production Loan Fund recipient this summer and will use the funds to expand her bee hive and sell more specialty products.

But Gross hasn’t always been a farmer. When the coal mine that Gross worked for in Harlan County shut down, it also took the jobs of her husband, father, brother and sister.

The family moved to Laurel County, where she found work as a legal secretary, and her husband traveled the country working in construction. Then the Great Recession struck, and both of them were jobless for two years. The town of Lily has a post office, fire department, a couple of convenience stores and a dollar store, so there weren’t many opportunities for employment.

So Gross and her husband began to grow their own food. At first, they didn’t know how would make ends meet. Family and friends helped weed. Children played alongside garden.

“It was hard, back-breaking work but so worth the end result,” Gross said.

Now she wants to take the produce she’s generating on her one-acre plot of land and sell it beyond just a road-side stand. The Kentucky Innovation Network London Office, which is run by Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, has been helping her develop her business plan and is introducing her to local restaurants who are interested in serving local produce. It’s building upon the help she’s received from Grow Appalachia.

Gross said she hopes that she’ll eventually be able to rely on the farm for their main source of income. Currently, she travels for her job in the construction field, but the work comes and goes.

With the SOAR loan, Gross is going to grow her apiary and expand her bee hive to sell pollen, pollen products, honey and specialty honey. She also has applied for a grant to put in a high tunnel, which is an unheated greenhouse that extends the growing season – a must for a farmer who doesn’t have a lot of land.

“I call my husband ‘the Bee Whisperer’ because he can go into the apiary without any protection and doesn’t get stung,” Gross said. “Everything she knows about bees comes from her husband, who learned about bees from his grandfather, and by teaching herself with YouTube videos.”

She also is educating people through her Facebook Page and YouTube channel under the name of the farm, Prepared Household. A video posted on YouTube about recycling pallets for rabbit cages has had more than 29,000 views.

MelanieGrossproduceGross also wants to educate school-aged children about local food.

“We need to get away from synthetic food and reduce obesity, which you see a lot of in Laurel County,” said Gross, who has lost more than 30 pounds since she began farming and eating the food she produced. “I was told a story about a kindergartner who asked what was on her plate during lunch. When she was told it was chicken, she answered ‘That’s not chicken. Chicken is round.’ I want to work with schools to do a field day, so children can learn about healthy, sustainable food and how their families can grew food in their own backyard.”

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation and Grow Appalachia created the low-interest loan fund for small farmers in 54-county SOAR region of Eastern and Southern Kentucky. The fund was established with support from a $200,000 grant through the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy.

For more information on the Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center, visit Information on the loan program can be found at;

Lester Earthworks' entrepreneur got his start on family farm

Growing up on the family farm, Joe Lester realized two things that charted his course as an entrepreneur in McCreary County:

1. His family often had to wait for someone to do earth work, install a water line or haul gravel; and
2. Working for yourself is rewarding.

Lester’s entrepreneurial skills started in middle school, when he raised sweet corn on his family farm. By high school, he had built up his herd of Black Angus cows to 20 and won local and state FFA entrepreneur competitions.

“Farming planted the seed, and the FFA put a competitive side to entrepreneurism,” Lester said.

After high school, Lester found employment in the construction industry but continued to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. He bought his first backhoe at age 19 and worked for the construction company while building his own business, Joe’s Excavating, which installed septic systems and water lines as well as doing hauling and general excavation work.

Joe and his wife, Amanda, knew they wanted to take their small business to the next level after operating for five years. They sought out the assistance of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation to determine the best path for growth for their business, now called Lester Earthworks. They began working with what is now the Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center, which is part of the Kentucky Innovation Network.

KHIC helped them refine their business plan as well as structure a financing plan that included a small business loan, which enabled Lester Earthworks to purchase the equipment it needed.

“Kentucky Highlands has been a huge help to me,” said Lester, who has three full-time and two part-time employees “The guidance and funding helped me purchase additional equipment, diversify my business, add employees and be more competitive.”

Lester Earthworks does mostly residential and smaller commercial work as well as custom farm work, such as building ponds and clearing land. Lester also has developed trusting relationships with homebuilders in the area and works with them to dig foundations, clear land, prepare for underground utilities and provide dump truck services.

He hopes to continue his business growth by expanding into larger commercial and industrial projects.


From Employee to Health-Care Entrepreneur

Like many employees, Tim Taylor worked for more than 20 years in his field only to find himself suddenly out of a job due to corporate downsizing.

Taylor decided the time was right to go from employee to entrepreneur by starting Central Kentucky Diagnostic Center, LLC (CKDC), a new diagnostic imaging center in Stanford, Ky., that he formed with his wife, Dana.

Tim has more than 23 years of experience in diagnostic imaging, where he designed the imaging department for a new replacement hospital, operated three outpatient imaging services for the local hospital and served as radiology and respiratory therapy director and PACS administrator. Dana Taylor has 16 years of experience as a mammography and X-ray technologist.  

“God had a plan for us all along,” Tim Taylor said. “An imaging center of our own has always been a dream of ours. As difficult as it was to lose a job I had so much passion for, it presented us with an opportunity to do a greater good for the patients we serve. Our patients are given compassionate, family-centered care in a relaxed atmosphere and have access to some of the most technologically advanced equipment available all at prices that are one-half to one-third of hospital costs.

CKDC provides general diagnostic radiology, 3-D CT scans, general and vascular ultrasounds, bone density testing, and lab collection for the residents of Lincoln, Garrard, Boyle, Pulaski, Rockcastle and surrounding counties. It is the only non-physician, non-hospital owned imaging center in the state.

Because it has less overhead, Central Kentucky Diagnostic Center is able to provide its services for 50 percent to 75 percent less than a hospital would charge. 

“KHIC has supported us and helped us with the SBA loan as well as with our business plan and financial pro forma to make sure our loan application was complete,” Tim Taylor said.

All of the equipment is digital so images are sent electronically to board-certified radiologists to be read. If patients are traveling to Lexington to see a specialist, they are provided with their study on a CD. CKDC also has a secure website, which allows physicians to access the images immediately in their office.

"This project is an excellent fit with KHIC’s focus on medical services in the region through USDA’s Stronger Economies Together,” said Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands. “We are confident that Central Kentucky Diagnostic Center – with its strong, well-experienced management team – will provide a quality health-care service to the area that is greatly needed.”

Cumberland Security Bank in Somerset is CKDC’s lender. Kentucky Highlands assisted Cumberland Security Bank in packaging the loan to obtain the Small Business Administration Guarantee, then KHIC funded a portion of the loan.

Banks often turn to KHIC about assisting them in packaging a loan geared toward new and/or small businesses. The SBA loan helped the Taylors purchase the equipment, renovate the commercial space, and set up the required computer equipment and related software.

Realizing the dream of owning a farm supply store

Brian McElroy had always wanted to own a farm supply store. That dream came true in 2010, when McElroy and his wife, Natasha, purchased the Russell County Farm Store.

The business, located in Russell Springs, is a livestock feed manufacturing facility offering a full line of feed, farm and pet supplies to its customers.

Custom-mixed feeds are provided for individual farms by taking forage samples and blending grain mix to provide the right nutrition for the livestock.

McElroy learned the business by working there for several years – always with the goal of buying it. He has more than 20 years of farming and beef production experience.

The feed mill has served the area since the late 1950s, and one of McElroy’s top priorities after purchasing the business was to improve the accessibility and deliver of custom bulk feed.

Thanks to financing from Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC) and Southern Kentucky Economic Development Corporation (SKED), McElroy was able to build a new addition to the business. The 12,000-square-foot bulk mixing facility has 15 ingredient bays that will hold approximately 50 tons of product per bay.

“The addition will give us more flexibility and capacity,” said McElroy, who was honored this fall as one of the region’s top entrepreneurs at the annual Excellence in Entrepreneurship Awards program at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset. “It will allow us to be more competitive on price and ingredients.”

Today, there are eight full-time and four part-time employees at Russell County Farm Store, which serves Russell and several surrounding counties.

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation first started working with Russell County Farm Store in 2013. KHIC was uniquely positioned to work with the company and SKED because it has two lending officers with considerable practical agricultural experience.

Edgar Davis, who works primarily with the company, comes from a farming background and has a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural economics from the University of Kentucky. Gene Bundy is a cattle farmer and a former employee of the USDA Farmers Home Administration.

A story of GRACE and healing that went global


What started as a private non-profit health-care center in the Gray community of Knox County has not only branched out into Clay and Leslie counties, it also has attracted international attention. grayoffice

Grace Community Health Center, Inc. (GRACE) was started in January 2008 as a federally qualified health clinic to offer an extensive range of care and treatment to patients regardless of their income level or ability to pay. Front-line, preventive medicine is the main focus at its 26 clinics – 23 of which are located in schools – and a mobile dental clinic. In October, GRACE will add a women’s health clinic in Corbin to its facilities.

Kentucky lags behind the nation in the number of physicians per capita. In rural areas, this problem is even worse with two-thirds of Kentucky’s population in rural areas but only one-third of the doctors are outside metro areas. GRACE is helping fill that need with 44 full-time employees, including one physician and eight nurse practitioners. More than 10,000 patients and 122,000 encounters have been seen since GRACE opened its doors.

“These preventive health and dental services will benefit the community for years and years to come,” said Mike Stanley, CEO of GRACE. “We have a sustainable model of delivering health care that will impact generations.”

But it’s a recent role that caught the attention of the BBC, which sent a reporter from Great Britain to Clay County to learn about kynect and conwooton2duct an interview with GRACE employee Jennifer Gates. She is one of four employees who assists families and businesses navigate the kynect health-care system to obtain affordable insurance.

They have helped more than 1,500 people sign up for insurance or the recently expanded Medicaid program, including a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer and didn’t know where to turn and another whose family – including her parents – never had health insurance.

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation made a loan to GRACE in November 2009 as part of a financing package, along with lending partner Southern Kentucky Economic Development Corporation. GRACE used the funds to purchase facilities and make property improvements, and Stanley credits Kentucky Highlands’ investment as being critical to GRACE’s continued growth.