This story is one of several “Stories of Change” highlighted in a new evaluation of ARC’s POWER Initiative.
Communities are still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19. When Kentucky had to shut down its economy due to the pandemic, the Appalachian Impact Fund at the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky brought together partners to launch an effective COVID response to help save small businesses throughout the Region.
In partnership with the Community Economic Development Initiative for Kentucky (CEDIK), Invest 606, and with support from ARC’s POWER Initiative, the Appalachian Impact Fund created the Southeast Kentucky Downtown Business Stimulus Fund to drive the region forward by revitalizing Kentucky’s downtown area.
CEDIK and Invest 606 also helped design and implement the Southeast Kentucky Healthy Downtowns Initiative grant program. The program provided support to nonprofit organizations, local businesses, and public partners focused on downtown revitalization, community economic development, engagement, and public health during the COVID pandemic and Kentucky’s reopening.
“Small projects like this have a huge, meaningful impact for small business owners. The feedback we have received from downtown businesses in Harlan and Cumberland has been overwhelmingly positive,” said one of the organizers of the Harlan County COVID Safe Shop Hops. “The promotion of the event online and via WYMT increased traffic in our downtowns, but not to the point where it felt unsafe. One business in downtown Harlan reported more than 500 visitors the day of the event and sales that exceeded their Black Friday sales in 2019. Several other business owners shared with us that it was well worth their time staying open for extended hours.”
To date, the Stimulus Fund has provided 153 grants totaling $385,400 to business owners ranging from restaurants, unique retail, amusement, personal services, and others active in the broader downtown and tourism ecosystems in 23 counties. Of the 153 grants, the Stimulus Fund has assisted 347 full time jobs, 282 part time jobs, and 88 seasonal jobs. Not only this, but over 60% of businesses funded are women-owned. Eight Eastern Kentucky downtowns were invited to apply, and six received $30,000 implementation grants in Harlan, Irvine, Pikeville, Prestonsburg, Williamsburg, and Whitesburg Counties. Examples of activities that are being funded in these areas include: branded PPE and hand sanitizer stations for downtown businesses in Prestonsburg, an outdoor pop-up movie theater in Pikeville, COVID safe Downtown Shop Hops in Harlan and Cumberland, a new e-commerce site for downtown businesses in Irvine, repurposing a previously abandoned property in Whitesburg to provide river-side public dining in support of downtown restaurants, implementation of new public space design and outdoor public dining spaces in Williamsburg, and several of the programs included direct mini-grants to struggling downtown businesses.
Revitalizing downtown areas is not only a huge support system to entrepreneurs and local small businesses, but it also helps establish a great place to live for the Region’s residents by creating a cool and lively downtown area to bring people together.