HCEDA members review business report

Published 4:08 pm Friday, April 19, 2019

Harlan County Economic Development Authority members received results and recommendations from the Business Retention and Expansion Program (BR&E) provided by the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) during a meeting on Monday.

The BR&E Program is a facilitated business assessment service provided by CEDIK that has worked closely with ONE Harlan County, the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce, Harlan Tourism and the Harlan Civic Center over the course of the year. Together, the groups coordinated engagements with local business owners to discuss their perspectives and needs and to better understand the challenges they face. The BR&E Program interview results represent 22 businesses in Harlan County.

CEDIK Economic Development Extension Specialist Luke Ramsay reviewed the report with HCEDA members during Monday’s meeting.

Ramsay said the businesses surveyed in the county were primarily located in the city of Harlan, with some others located in Evarts and Cumberland. The businesses surveyed were mainly retail sectors, but also included health care, real estate, professional services and manufacturing.

In the BR&E report under market and industry, Ramsay said Harlan community identifies as a community focused on local customers and markets. As businesses begin to expand through the region and online, they face various competitors to sell and advertise. Ramsay said the businesses are making use of online platforms, but there is “significant room for growth in this area.”

The growth potential of interviewed businesses in the county were labeled as stable, with 45 percent expected to expand their business in the next three years. Overall, facilities and workforce needs were sufficient for the businesses’ needs.

Business owners in Harlan also noted the workforce as “fair.” Employers are fairly content with their workforce, but often struggle to fill higher technical or education-dependent positions, Ramsay explained.

Under the “community” section in the BR&E report, it is stated that an overwhelming amount of businesses appreciate and respect the area in which they live and operate, noting both the natural environment and citizens contribute to their love for the community. However, businesses still face challenges, such as technology and infrastructure.

Based on the findings of the survey, Ramsay said the BR&E Program put together three key recommendations for the county’s local business climate.

The first recommendation was for workforce development. Ramsay said the BR&E Program noted county business owners believe the workforce is adequate for their needs, but progress is still yet to be made to further development. The program advises the county to explore ways to provide training and mechanisms to “improve existing worker capacity and prepare the county workforce for future hires.”

The second recommendation called for improvement of connectivity, explaining the most identified challenge is cell phone and internet accessibility. The program encourages the county to look for ways to improve connection and use of business communications.

The final recommendation revolved around education and resource opportunities.

“The topics of new state laws and regulations (pertaining to businesses), financial incentives, information about pollution prevention strategies, manufacturing technologies and insurance for small businesses were suggested,” the BR&E Program report states. “Shared information sessions could be very helpful to keep area businesses up to date.”