Kentucky’s Economic Gardening Program Off To A Productive Start

In April of 2014, the Kentucky Small Business Development Center in partnership with the Community and Economic Development Initiative in Kentucky launched the Grow Kentucky program and received overwhelming interest from throughout the Commonwealth. The center and initiative are part of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Typically a region’s economic growth is based on attracting new large scale companies, often via offers of tax incentives and workforce development services. By contrast, Grow Kentucky focuses on aiding established growth-oriented companies with strategic issues such as developing new markets, refining business models and accessing competitive intelligence. Small businesses with longevity and a goal to expand are often referred to as second stage businesses. Such companies generally engage 10 to 99 employees and generate from one to 50 million dollars in annual revenues.

Jamie and Steve Bryant, owners of , a book packaging company based in Covington, KY were among those with a piqued interest in the new program. The Bryant’s company had the potential, it was direction they needed.

As a small business with a small staff, we are often so focused on execution that, despite our best intentions, we are unable to map a clear path to growth. Even when we know what we want to do, we often lack access to the information that will help us make the best strategic decisions.
– Jamie Bryant,
Knowing that information is the new currency of economic development, the Grow Kentucky network acquires advanced business intelligence tools that second stage companies either can’t afford on their own or are not aware of. The program specialists assist in the four key areas of information: strategic market research, social media marketing, search engine optimization and geographic information systems.

Our business is unique in that it is comprised of very different parts. We publish Kiki magazine for tween and teen girls, and we develop educational products – books, workbooks, assessments – for major U.S. academic publishers. Through the Grow Kentucky process we’ve started to get a real sense of how to develop each side of the business, how and where to invest resources.

– Jamie Bryant,
Grow Kentucky specialists function as an extension of the companies they work with, identifying issues that are hindering growth and connecting them with the new tools, concepts and information for making decisions that lead to successful expansion. Open communications are essential during the initial meetings between entrepreneurs and the specialists. Learning the owners’ background, company structure, goals and growth issues all combine to provide actionable information for the companies. There is constant contact throughout this ongoing relationship which leads to the other key component of the program – speed – and getting the answers business owners need in hours versus days or weeks.
Since our start in the program we’ve gained a better understanding of how to use specific information to make better strategic choices. It’s important for us to understand where the best opportunities are so we can focus our efforts appropriately. The Grow Kentucky program is helping us do that – and do that better than we have in the past.
– “Jamie
Grow Kentucky is a customized set of tools that bore into a company’s products, services and competitors, and delivers valuable insights for achieving strategic growth. The program’s services merge an assessment and advice on core business strategies, and the management team to provide “the big picture” strategy for successful growth.
Nationally, Economic Gardening client companies have averaged a 20% positive revenue growth as a result of their participation in the program. The center and initiative staffs are certified as Economic Gardening specialists for Kentucky by the Lowe Foundation. A typical program engagement takes from four to six weeks and is usually conducted through face-to-face meetings and/or teleconferencing.
We’ve derived tremendous benefit from the program and we’re only part of the way through it. We would tell another small business owner considering the program to sign up right away so they can gain access to the information and tools usually just out of reach, and learn how to put them to good use, then that small business can grow into a midsize one!
– Jamie Bryant,

The Kentucky Small Business Development Center, part of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, is a partner program with the U.S. Small Business Administration. UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, through its land-grant mission, reaches across the commonwealth with teaching, research and extension to enhance the lives of Kentuckians.

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