Everyone wants money, hardly anyone needs it. Have you read about lottery winners and professional athletes who end up broke? Why is that? The reason is they do not have the fundamentals that allow them to use their newfound wealth to live a prosperous life.
The same is true of most people receiving government handouts. What have the billions spent in Appalachia yielded to the vast majority of the population? Large federal programs have only delivered a glimmer of hope before the crush of reality sets in. Most successful careers are not built on handouts; they are built on hard work and determination. The siren's song of a federal grant is that you can skip the hard work and determination. But you can't. We don't need federal assistance; we need a few passionate people willing to work hard for a long time.
All the rest of what you need is already in place in the commonwealth. There is one more thing though — your passion has to be true to where you live and what your skills are.
An example: In Pendleton County they would like to attract more businesses. Their idea is to build a business park. Yet, there is not the supporting infrastructure including roads and supporting businesses. A key fact is that 60 percent of the population works outside the county. The market is telling them that this is an ideal bedroom community. They should build homes for young professional families with schools nearby and elderly housing with shopping for necessities nearby. They should make downtown a fun place for the young and old. They are focused on a business park.
Elliot County has some of the nation's best folk artists. Rowan County leads the nation in small satellite development. Pike County has a nationally ranked college of osteopathic medicine.
Carter County has Carter Caves. (What if downtown Olive Hill, destroyed by a flood in 2010, was rebuilt with a children's science museum? How many of the 330,000 visitors to Carter Caves would go there?)
Bell County was formed by a meteor strike over 100 million years ago.
Martin County has mine owner Jim Booth. (What if he encouraged the managers of all the businesses in the county to become entrepreneurs and he financed their acquisition of his businesses? Entrepreneurship would become a way of life.)
Madison County has the Bluegrass Army Depot and over $5 billion in infrastructure to demilitarize chemical weapons. (What if, after the weapons are destroyed, this site was repurposed to retain and expand employment?)
Each and every community has something to leverage. What is needed are people willing to devote the time and energy to make a difference. The rewards will be both emotionally gratifying and financially rewarding.
Oh, yes, where do these people get the help the commonwealth has to offer? The Kentucky Innovation Network. One call can change your life and the lives of those in your community. www.kyinnovation.com.
Rick Johnson is technology commercialization executive in residence and associate vice president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Center in Lexington.