PEAK Performance: Association Promotes Expansion of Microenterprises in Kentucky

Lisa J. Locke

In the fall of 2006, when the Louisville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis sponsored a workshop on the industry of microenterprise, no one anticipated the outcome would be the formation of a state microenterprise association (SMA). But that is exactly what happened.

Today, Partners for Entrepreneurial Advancement in Kentucky (PEAK), a nonprofit association, supports economic development across the state of Kentucky through the growth of microenterprise, especially in economically depressed areas.

Small, but (Collectively) Mighty

Microenterprise is defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a business with five or fewer employees and less than $35,000 in start-up funds. Typical microenterprises are businesses run by florists, jewelers, hairdressers, plumbers, bakers and carpenters.

Although microenterprises may be small, they comprise the majority of businesses. There are an estimated 24 million microenterprises in the United States, representing almost 87 percent of all businesses. Microenterprises comprise about 20 percent of all private employment and are responsible for creating nearly 900,000 new jobs each year. There are approximately 303,000 microenterprises in Kentucky.

Creating an SMA

The formation of an SMA is not an overnight process. For the dedicated group of volunteers in Kentucky who took on the task, it would be nearly two years after the workshop—June of 2008—before the association was up and running. There were nine organizations involved.

In the beginning, when they were exploring the possibilities, their first order of business was to identify what was occurring in the state and whether there was an interest in forming an association. A survey conducted in late 2006 indicated that most of those responding felt a statewide association would be beneficial. The primary reasons were that an SMA would provide better access to funding, a unified voice for public policy, training for microenterprise service providers, an extension of microloan programs to underserved areas of the state, and an opportunity for practitioners to share best practices and network.

Learning from Others

After the survey was completed and tabulated, strategic planning began. The group heard from representatives of SMAs in Alabama and Ohio about the benefits and challenges. Catherine Marshall, former CEO of the California association and microenterprise consultant, was instrumental in helping the group set goals, objectives, action plans and timelines.

The group was also fortunate to be invited to participate in a CFED six-month, pilot program for SMAs on capacity building. The program offered a comprehensive package of training and technical assistance for emerging and existing associations.

Benefits of an SMA

What is the purpose of a state microenterprise association? What are the benefits of joining an association? What services can an association provide? The benefits of membership in PEAK include:

  • educational training, best practices and networking among peers,
  • an annual conference focusing on strategies to expand microenterprise,
  • access to an online calendar to learn about upcoming events,
  • access to resources,
  • opportunities to provide input into PEAK’s strategic direction, and
  • opportunities to advocate on behalf of and act as a unified voice for microenterprise development.

PEAK’s current membership includes microenterprise service providers, government agencies, entrepreneurs, academics and business leaders.

Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp., said his organization joined PEAK because it gives them a chance to connect with other microenterprise development agencies. “It’s a great opportunity to help entrepreneurism thrive throughout the state of Kentucky,” Rickett said.

PEAK sponsored its first conference this past June. More than 70 attendees gathered to learn about trends and challenges in microenterprise development from local, state and national perspectives. Keynote speakers included Jody Raskind of the specialty lenders division of USDA Rural Development, Jason Friedman of Friedman Associates and Donna Salyers of Fabulous Furs. Feedback from attendees on what was most beneficial about the conference included networking, roundtable discussions, meeting micro lenders, and discussing industry problems and solutions.

For additional information about PEAK, visit www.peakky.org.

The following organizations worked together to form PEAK:

  • Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development,
  • Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Louisville Branch,
  • Kentucky District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration,
  • Kentucky Small Business Development Center,
  • Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED),
  • Community Ventures Corp.,
  • Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp.,
  • Commerce Lexington, and
  • Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Louisville.

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