Kirk helping to lead economic development in eastern KY

Published 1:00 pm Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Eastern Kentucky has always been home for Colby Kirk. He grew up in Martin County, graduated from UK, traveled abroad and returned to the Bluegrass to help businesses and entrepreneurs succeed in Appalachian Kentucky.

“I never wanted to leave eastern Kentucky,” he said. “This region is my home. Even when I was away in college, I was looking for opportunities to return.”

Kirk, executive director of a nonprofit economic development organization, One Harlan County and president of the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce, is working to create a better way of life for residents in his community and throughout the region.

“My current goal is to be a leader in the economic diversification of eastern Kentucky,” Kirk said. “I have always been fascinated by economic development and I am equally passionate about Appalachia.”

The Center for Rural Development’s Rogers Scholars program instills in young people a commitment to serve their communities and southern and eastern Kentucky.

Kirk attended Rogers Scholars in 2009 as a high school student from Martin County. He fondly remembers his first day at camp.

“Rogers Scholars was intimidating to me at first,” Kirk recalled. “I had never spent time away from home. Having the opportunity to learn and grow as a leader with other students my age from around the region proved to be invaluable. It made me excited to go to college and continue my leadership journey and I gained confidence in myself and my abilities by completing something that seemed difficult at the time.”

Kirk graduated from the University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics with a degree in finance. He completed an international business minor during a semester abroad at Korea University Business School in Seoul, South Korea. After graduating college, Kirk spent two years as a Teach for America Corps member, teaching high school mathematics in his hometown of Inez.

He encourages high school students to plan for the future and think outside the box.

“Push yourself to do the things that make you uncomfortable, because you learn and grow more when you are uncomfortable. And don’t settle,” Kirk said. “Students from eastern Kentucky are just as capable as students from any part of the United States. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do something or go to a certain school because you are from this region.”

Kirk is following his dreams and doing what he loves in the field of economic development. During the last two years, efforts have been made to revitalize the downtown area, create new jobs and complete development on the first state-certified build-ready site in southeastern Kentucky.

“Our region and its people deserve a bright economic future with new industries and good paying jobs,” he said. “I hope to grow in my leadership in this region and continue to serve the people and place that I love.”

Rogers Scholars is a one-week intensive summer program that provides valuable leadership skills and exclusive college scholarship opportunities for high school students in southern and eastern Kentucky to help seize their potential as the region’s next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.

The program is provided free of charge to students and supported solely through financial contributions and donations.

To make a tax-deductible donation to the Rogers Scholars program, visit, contact Allison Cross at or call 606-677-6019.

Established in 1996 through the vision of U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, (KY-05), and other leaders, The Center for Rural Development is a nonprofit organization fueled by a mission to provide leadership that stimulates innovative and sustainable economic development solutions and a better way of life in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. In its 45-county primary service region, The Center provides innovative programs in leadership, public safety, technology, and arts and culture. The Center is committed to constantly expanding its capabilities in order to deliver a range of key services throughout Kentucky and the nation.