When he started at the company 20 years ago, Michael Watkins never dreamed he would one day own LaCrosse Enclosures. He was hired to be a quality control manager after earning an associate’s degree in applied science from Somerset Community College.

But over those 20 years, he learned every aspect of the business, which specializes in custom metal fabrication, machining and processing of metal. It also does powder coating and sewing.

When the previous owner’s health issues led him to sell the company, Watkins and his wife, Crystal, decided to buy the company, which is based in Albany. 

If we hadn’t bought it, the company probably would have closed or been moved to the location of its new owner,” Watkins said. “Jobs would have been lost. In such a small town, there aren’t many opportunities. I wanted to keep the business and jobs here in Clinton County, where the business and employees contribute to the tax base.”

LaCrosse Enclosures has 28 employees. The company also works with the local vocational school to provide co-op opportunities for welding students and tries to get the community involved.

Outdoor Venture Corporation in McCreary County is its largest customer. LaCrosse Enclosures makes tent frames for the military for OVC, and it also has military contracts on its own.

Watkins started advertising locally and has picked up several new local clients. He had the business recertified as a HUBZone business, a Small Business Administration program that fuels small business growth in historically underutilized business zones with a goal of awarding at least 3% of federal contract dollars to HUBZone-certified companies each year. The company also is going through the process of being certified as a woman-owned business because Crystal is the majority owner.

“I thought I would take the chance,” he said. “I contacted Kentucky Highlands. They walked me through the steps. It was painless.”

The Kentucky Highlands Empowerment Zone Loan Fund provided financing for the acquisition of the business and some working capital. Even though the Empowerment Zone designation ended years ago, there is still a revolving loan fund that is active in making loans to businesses in the EZ counties of Clinton, Jackson and part of Wayne.

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation announced a $450,000 community facilities loan to the Burkesville-Cumberland County Industrial Development Authority for the purchase of 93 acres for a business-industrial park.

“This is a great move – a big move,” Cumberland County Judge-Executive John Phelps said. “This loan will help us manage our payment well with the package Kentucky Highlands put together. We also will be able to get the land ready for a future company. It all came together very well. I’m proud of the relationship.

The land will position the community to be ready for the expansion of an existing company or recruitment of a new business.

“If we had this site ready three years ago, we already would have one of our employers expand its business,” said Elijah Wilson, a member of the industrial authority. “Speed to market is a big part of economic development today. Businesses want land that is ready to go. This also fits with our strategic plan, which embraces tourism as economic development. Part of this land could be used for another boat ramp. It brings all aspects together. To attract businesses, you need a site that is ready and a strong quality of life.”

“The loan from Kentucky Highlands made the process of securing the financing less stressful, and we appreciate working with an organization that shares our interest in improving the quality of life.”

This loan is part of the USDA’s Community Facilities loan program, known as the Uplift America Fund, which selected KHIC as one of only 26 organizations in the nation to participate. The program leverages federal resources, bank financing and private grants to target much-needed capital to persistently low-wealth areas.

Kentucky Highlands has loaned more than $23 million at low fixed rates for community facility projects that help reduce poverty as a result of the Uplift America Fund.

“This program has helped fund important community needs that previously were unmet or were in jeopardy,” said Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of KHIC. “Community investments like the industrial park will benefit the well-being of our region for generations.”

University of Kentucky alumna, Raenae Moore, turned to the Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center for business mentorship and website training in the past. Recently, Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation worked with Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) on a digital inclusion grant to expand access to internet access. Raenae Moore’s company and another organization both joined in helping find individuals who could benefit from the assistance. Read more about Raenae’s experience on the University of Kentucky’s website: https://uknow.uky.edu/campus-news/uk-alumna-transforms-substance-use-treatment-through-technology-passion

Funding expected to leverage more than $4 million in private investment

LONDON, Ky. —Today, Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation was awarded $1.5 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for a project to increase access to capital and technical assistance for businesses as well as boost employee skills and training.

This award is part of a $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries.

“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia. That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Many of the projects we announced today will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal-impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”

The Kentucky Highlands Empowerment Zone/Promise Zone (EZ/PZ) Project will target the Kentucky Promise Zone counties (Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and part of Whitley), the former Empowerment Zone Counties (Jackson, Wayne and Clinton) and McCreary County. The goal is to create 400 to 425 new jobs as well as increase education and training for 400 workers. 

It will include four components:

  • A $650,000 revolving loan fund to offer stabilization and expansion capital to businesses and organizations that serve the public good, such as health-care entities;
  • Business management and technical assistance from KHIC staff;
  • $150,000 to launch the Career Ladder Incentive Program, which will enhance employees’ skills by reimbursing organizations 50 percent of tuition and fees for each employee completing a certificate or training; and
  • Work with EKCEP to expand Teleworks USA, a remote-work training and job placement program, to Clinton, Wayne and Whitley counties.

“The project will meet several crucial needs in our region,” said Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands. “It will address a shortage in capital investment available to local businesses, provide much-needed specialized technical assistance, boost labor participation rates by expanding remote work opportunities and increase employees’ upward mobility through career-advancing continuing education. We’ll leverage several assets — more than 50 years of small business investing and technical assistance experience, the Empowerment Zone 5-year employee tax credit extension, and the remaining 33 months of the Promise Zone designation benefits.” 

Project partners include Woodforest Bank; EKCEP; Bell, Wayne, and Whitley County Fiscal Courts to implement Teleworks USA; and the elder and primary care organizations American Health Management, Grace Health, Dayspring Health and Pineville Community Health Center, Inc.

KHIC expects the ARC loan fund also will attract more than $4 million of other private investment. The three-year project also will be matched with cash and in-kind services.

 Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested more than $287.8 million in 362 projects across 353 coal-impacted counties. The nearly $46.4 million awarded today is projected to create/retain over 9,187 jobs, attract nearly $519.5 million in leveraged private investments, and be matched by $59.2 million in additional public and private funds across the Region. 

ARC is working with Chamberlin/Dunn LLC, a third-party research firm, to closely monitor, analyze, and evaluate these investments. A new report, published today in conjunction with the announcement, drew on 72 stories representing 44 unique POWER projects funded between fiscal years 2015-2020 to determine the most significant changes that occurred as a result of POWER.

The evaluation found that projects funded through POWER grants met or exceeded targets for jobs retained and/or created, businesses created, workers trained, and revenues increased. Chamberlin/Dunn is continuing to monitor POWER investments and make recommendations to ARC for ongoing programmatic efficiencies.

About Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, founded in 1968 to stimulate economic growth in nine counties in Southern and Eastern Kentucky, now serves 22 counties in the region and has created or maintained more than 25,000 jobs. Visit www.khic.org for additional information.

About the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)

The Appalachian Regional Commission (www.arc.gov) is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.

Kentucky Highlands Community Development Corporation (KHCDC) is pleased to announce it has been selected as a recipient of an Open for Business grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation. The grant funding will be used as a working capital concessionary loan product to provide cash to small businesses that have been impacted by closure or restricted access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The grant is part of Wells Fargo’s Open for Business Fund, which launched as an approximately $400 million small business recovery effort across the United States to help entrepreneurs recover and rebuild. The initiative focuses on three key areas: increasing access to capital through CDFIs, technical assistance, and long-term recovery and resiliency programs for diverse small businesses.

While the economic challenges in KHCDC’s target market pre-date the current COVID-19 crisis, the COVID-19 outbreak and the associated economic collapse has challenged Kentucky’s small businesses more than most states. The pandemic has made it difficult for entrepreneurs to keep their doors open, retain employees, and rebuild. The funding from Wells Fargo will allow Kentucky Highlands Community Development Corporation to provide more small businesses with access to capital necessary to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and be ready for growth when the pandemic is over.

Kentucky Highlands Community Development Corporation, along with the organization’s other development subsidiaries have acted as a catalyst for change in rural communities throughout eastern Kentucky that have historically been plagued by high rates of poverty and unemployment. KHCDC works to spur economic development and job maintenance and creation in their targeted region by offering a wide range of financial and technical support services to businesses, social enterprises, and community facilities and entrepreneurs that lack access to capital and conventional credit markets.

For more information on lending programs we offer, visit https://www.khic.org/loan-programs/

Sandi Curd, Promise Zone Coordinator for the Kentucky Highland Investment Corporation, recently joined the podcast, EIGL (Engaging Local Government Leaders) to talk about her work supporting communities and small businesses through placemaking. She shared how the Promise Zone impacts the 22-county service area in southeastern Kentucky and how placemaking can serve as an economic incubator. Sandi also discussed placemaking examples and how the community drives what they do.

To listen, visit: https://elgl.org/podcast-rural-placemaking-in-the-kentucky-highlands-with-sandi-curd/

Your company need to train employees, but you’re concerned about:

  1. Large gatherings during the pandemic;
  2. Not having enough equipment to conduct hands-on training for everyone; or
  3. Expensive equipment that you don’t want someone who is in training to accidentally break it.

EK Media Group, based in London, can help your company with D) All of the above.

It uses augmented reality and virtual reality to provide 3-D, interactive training for everything from CAT scan repair to commercial cleaning.

Jason Dickerson founded the company after working as a software engineer for SAP and then GE Healthcare.

“I moved back to the area with the goal of bringing tech jobs to Eastern Kentucky so people can go to school, then come back home for good jobs,” he said.

EK Media Group can reverse engineer a product to recreate a prototype for a website and use it for interactive training. It also utilizes gaming technology to create e-learning modules where users can then take a test on what they’ve learned using an app.

The company, which is housed in the Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center, has clients all across the United States.

“In addition to having office space, we get support for our business ideas and guidance,” Dickerson said. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I can come up with a great project. Kentucky Highlands helps us map out the business and make connections.”

It started with a Sonic Drive-In franchise in London in 1996. Since then, Chuck and Mindy Newnham have acquired a total of seven franchises with Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken and Sonic.

They now have about 140 employees and closer to 210 employees in the busy summer months. Their franchises stretch from Richmond and Lexington to Russell Springs, Columbia, Stanford and Monticello as well as the original site in London, which has been rebuilt.

Their company, K2, was the second tenant for the Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center and remains an important partner.

“We were looking for office space, and it’s so much more,” said Chuck, who handles the operations while Mindy oversees administration. “We’ve taken advantage of a free legal class, a QuickBooks class, Toast Masters speech training and other classes. And it’s so helpful to get the advice of other tenants here – there’s a lawyer, a CPA.”

Chuck also utilizes the training space to conduct classes on franchising and training for restaurant managers.

“Every community needs a Kentucky Highlands,” he said. “My business has grown because of it. We work hard, but I don’t think we’d be where we are today without the network and resources I have here. It gives me a comfort level that I have the professional services and advice rather than just Googling something. Bankers help me get my ducks in a row.”

In turn, Chuck also serves as an Entrepreneur in Residence and helps fellow entrepreneurs, who come in to pitch ideas.

“They come in, and we ask questions – what are your costs, where are you getting your materials,” Chuck said. “It forces you to look at every single process in the business. It helps you know what you’re up against and what the next steps need to be.”

He also helps people understand franchises. It costs more to invest, but it is a proven model and much of the hard work –  from menus to marketing – has been done.

“There are a lot of moving parts – buying property, appraisals, business plans, insurance,” Chuck said. “I don’t know where I would be without Kentucky Highlands.”

In a family accustomed to using medicinal herbs and making soap, it was a natural way to reduce the symptoms of dermatitis and ease issues with sensitive skin. Then it expanded to gifts for family and friends. Now, it is a family business.

            Positive Attraction Soaps in Lee County has online sales for dozens of products and is in retail locations around the Red River Gorge area as well as Lexington and Louisville.

Through a SOAR Small Loan Production Fund, the mother-daughter team of Vickie and Sarah Crabtree hope to expand as a wholesaler for retail stores, a supplier of ingredients and a teacher to show others how to create their own organic products.

“It’s important to me to make a quality product that is affordable and provide nice things for people in my community,” Sarah Crabtree said.

The Crabtrees started Positive Attraction Soaps in 2013 as an organic botanical farm. In addition to the soap company, Vickie Crabtree works as an occupational therapist in Lee County and daughter Sarah works as a registered nurse in the ER at the hospital in Mount Sterling. 

The company produces a wide variety of soaps, bath products, lotions and scrubs. They also grow organic vegetables and herbs. The vegetables are sold to a number of restaurants in the region, and the herbs are processed into several of the products of Positive Attraction Soaps.

With the $4,000 SOAR Farm Loan, Positive Attraction Soaps is investing in professional labeling. Sarah Crabtree said packaging is extremely important in this market and will help the company transition to a larger operation. It worked with a graphic designer to rebrand the company last year and used Turner Labels to print new, quality oil/water-proof labels. The company also is working to strengthen its on-line presence.

KHIC and Grow Appalachia created the SOAR Small Loan Production Fund is made possible through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund (tobacco settlement funds) and the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy (GOAP).

From $950,000 in capitalization from GOAP, the fund has made 181 loans for almost $1.3 million in four years. More than $400,000 in principal repayments have been made.

Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center helps local entrepreneurs and business owners grow, meet and collaborate. What does success look like? How about three tenants needing more space – all in the same year!
Inquiry Technologies (InqTech) and PrivateLabelLawyer.com moved into bigger space within the center, and Symbiosis Media Group relocated to downtown London.

Inquiry Technologies

InqTech received a grant and were relocating to the area because local schools were participating in its research to create a digital platform for students to show what they know by recording think-out-loud explanations and interactions with content. This digital recording then can be shared with students’ teachers, parents and others, who also can provide feedback. In addition, it helps begin a conversation at home about the importance of STEM careers, which is particularly important in rural communities, where parental influence is a dominant factor in determining a student’s career pathway beyond high school but few parents in those communities work in STEM-related fields.
“This is a really good situation,” said Dr. Scott Stuckey, founder and chief technology officer of the company. “As a start-up company, we found a lot of value in the space, location and other resources.”
The company hired a full-time employee this year and will be expanding again in 2020 as it prepares to market its product. EKCEP and TeleWorks will be its first client as it not only expands to other schools but also targets workforce development. InqTech also is working to adapt its program to deal with substance abuse by helping those in the later stages of recovery with job interview skills as well as serving an outlet for their expression that also allows them to maintain privacy.
“The access to KHIC, Melissa Conn and the other folks were instrumental in making connections to business people, networking and accessing various resources through workshops,” Stuckey said.
Inquiry Technology is located online at InquiryTechnologies.com

Private Label Lawyer

Suzie Hixon left a high-powered office in San Francisco but brought her global patent attorney practice with her when she returned home to Kentucky in 2013. She was looking for a co-working space in London and found the KHIC Center through an Internet search.
Hixon is proof that technology allows professionals to trade in the rat race and high-cost of big cities without the trade-off of changing careers. She continues to service clients across the country and around the world. Business continues to grow as e-commerce increases and companies have to protect their brand against counterfeit products.
She moved to bigger space in the Center so she can start a podcast and create videos to further expand her reach.
“My family is here. I love the lower cost of living, and people are much more genuine,” Hixon said. “With technology, you can work from almost anywhere. It’s better for your mental health and personal life.”
“You can bring your brain power and spending power home – put your money back in the economy where you grew up.”
You can find more information on Suzi’s company at ThePrivateLabelLawyer.com


Greg Kitzmiller of Symbiosis Media Group was actually the first tenant when he worked for another company in 2011 — before the current KHIC Center building was constructed. He partnered with Jason Hoskins, who had been working in the Center with HP. They created a music studio but then came back with a new business model centered around web development and digital marketing.
Symbiosis has outgrown the space after hiring two more employees to service a diverse set of clients from farm-table foods to e-commerce to home security.
“Kentucky Highlands encouraged us and guided us through the process,” Kitzmiller said. “With the support of seminars on Quick Books and other topics as well as affordable rent, the KHIC Center shelters companies from the harshness of the start-up environment until your business model is working.”
“The community and networking help you grow and learn in a culture and as a group about sales, working on an elevator speech and improving your business model — all with less pressure. A lot of incubators have zero support, but this is a community.”
To connect with Symbiosis Media Group, visit SMediaNow.com

The new owners of Somerset Pet Lodge don’t fit the traditional mold of business owners. Drew Miniard is just 24 years old. He formerly was the inventory manager for guns at The Castle Jewelry. His fiancée, Callie LeMaster, is 25 and previously worked as an entomologist for a company that was funded by the CDC to help eradicate diseases spread by mosquitoes.

Full-filling Dreams

But a love of animals and dream of being their own boss made them a natural fit. And a series of microloans from Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation helped make the dream a reality.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Miniard said. “Callie and I have a passion and love for animals. The opportunity came up to buy the business. I wanted a change of pace, personal freedom, and this is something we can do forever.”
Miniard and LeMaster plan on building on an already strong business, which employs eight people and offers boarding, day care and grooming at the 6,600 square-foot building on more than an acre of land. The customer base is growing and extends into surrounding counties.
Future plans include adding 10 to 16 new suites, building a new indoor room to be used during inclement weather, extending hours of operation and adding another groomer.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without Kentucky Highlands,” Miniard said. “They take the time to not just look at the numbers but also examine the person, which helped us get funding at a young age. Not many financial institutions would do that.”
The Micro Enterprise Loan Fund was created at Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation to address the needs of small business start-ups and expansion projects. Using funds from USDA and SBA, KHIC can make loans of up to $50,000 to small businesses. In addition to the financing, each client receives the added service of technical assistance.

Click here for additional information, or call Joey Carter at 606-864-5175 to inquire.

Small businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Kentucky Highland’s service area recently took advantage of a unique opportunity to expand their digital presence. Since Summer 2019, Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation participated in the first large-scale national rollout of Empower presented by GoDaddy in association with AEO (Association for Enterprise Opportunity).


GoDaddy is the world’s largest online service platform for entrepreneurs around the globe and serves more than 19 million customers worldwide. The Association for Enterprise Opportunity works on a national level to create economic opportunities for underserved entrepreneurs throughout the United States.

Empowerment Program

The Empower program gave some of the microbusiness owners we serve the tools, skills, and mentorship needed to build a successful digital presence. Participants attended online digital marketing workshops created by GoDaddy and conducted by staff. In addition, they received support through group and webinar trainings along with networking opportunities with like-minded small business owners. During one training session, small business owners were able to discuss with GoDaddy’s chief technology officer strategies to differentiate themselves online and how to make the most of their new websites.

New Opportunities

This opportunity was especially timely during this Spring as many businesses and retailers were looking for ways to transition from exclusive brick and mortar locations to offering their goods and services online. The Empower program provided a host of products that allowed them to make this transition smoothly and quickly in order to limit any disruption of commerce.

At the conclusion of the year long program in July, a total of 151 area businesses had participated and were set up to launch their website offering their products and services online. Of those businesses, an impressive 58% were women led ventures. As these businesses continue to leverage the digital space, it’s going to be exciting to see them use the skills they used during the Empower program for future growth.

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation continued its tradition by supporting this year’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (ELI) presented by the Center for Rural Development along with Eastern Kentucky University.

25 Students participated

While the 2020 ELI was conducted virtually, there was no difference in the innovation and effort put forth by the 25 highly motivated students selected from Southern and Eastern Kentucky. The annual summer leadership camp for student entrepreneurs provided them with an in-depth look at what it takes to start their own business venture — from idea development to building a model prototype of their business concept. Shelton Ansley from Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center helped lead the students through the steps of turning an idea into a reality.


Members of the winning team earned a $16,000 provost scholarship from EKU

The Winners

This year’s winners created a mask prototype with a silicone tubing and wire system to help mask users avoid fogging up eye glasses. While responding to the need of healthcare practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic was inspiration behind the creation, the team also explained during their presentation to judges they anticipate their new product could become a staple in the medical mask industry post pandemic. The winning team members included Tanner Morrison from Knott County, Karaline Melton from Leslie County, Caleb Rose from Harlan County, and Logan Morrison from Knott County. Each student received a provost scholarship offer from Eastern Kentucky University totaling $16,000

Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC) has created an innovative training series to help emerging and existing entrepreneurs and housing contractors living in rural counties of Southeastern Kentucky start or expand their businesses.

With support from the U.S. Small Business Administration, KHIC is launching the inaugural “Business Builder Basics” training series.

For no charge, entrepreneurs and small business owners from all industries will learn critical skills necessary to operate in today’s business world. Initial classes focus on core business skills and gradually incorporate more specific topics. For participants interested in learning construction related business skills, professional contractors will teach additional classes designed with those in mind.

“In our work with building energy-efficient, affordable work force housing, we have seen first-hand the shortage of qualified construction trade businesses and professionals,” said Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands. “It hinders the ability of affordable housing development organizations in southeastern Kentucky to meet demand. This training program will help housing and construction contractors become more efficient, profitable and sustainable as well as help experienced construction trades workers launch their own business.”

In addition to a skilled worker shortage, there also is an aging workforce in the trades. The average age of company owners in the plumbing, electrical and HVAC trades is nearly 60 years old, and few have a succession plan for the business.

Initial classes have already received positive reviews from participants. “The depth of training and resources provided for new business owners is amazing” said Cheryl Boggs Fuller, an artist from London, Kentucky who attended the first training of the series. “Also, connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs has been a tremendous benefit.”

Classes will be continued monthly from December through July in Hazard, London, Pineville and Somerset. Participants can take all the classes or attend individual sessions. The program is free, but attendees must register in advance. To learn more or register, visit www.KHIC.org/Training-Programs. The courses also can be completed via video conference as well.

In addition, KHIC will hold other classes in locations where there is interest. Groups can arrange those trainings by contacting KHIC directly at (606) 864-5175.

Sessions will include:

  • Introduction to ZOOM teleconference software and business basics
  • Introduction to Microsoft Excel
  • How to avert a cash crisis by learning how to create weekly cash budget planning, forecasting, and negotiating with vendors and lenders as well as exploring tax and accounting issues
  • How to become a Housing Development Organization (HDO) contractor — cost-effective, energy-efficient building and qualifying for government contracting
  • Effective project management

The training is part of a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs (PRIME) to help organizations better meet the affordable housing demand. 

Highlands Housing construction staff guided KHIC in the development of curriculum specific to the building trades industry.