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March 7, 2013

USDA officials tour London’s Innovation Center

CORBIN — By Austin Williams

Staff Writer

The London Innovation and Commercialization Center received high praise from federal officials who toured the facility Wednesday.

Lillian Salerno, acting administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development said, “This is the most impressive thing I’ve seen in my tenure in this position.”

Salerno and Thomas G. Fern, state director of USDA Rural Development for Kentucky toured the facility, which is located on the campus of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation.

USDA funds were used in the construction of the facility, which has been in operation for two years. The center’s director, Bill Schutters, and Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation president/CEO Jerry Rickett led the tour of the facility, which serves as the London hub of the Kentucky Innovation Network, a collection of facilities distributed across the state that provide free or reduced cost business services and training for technology based start-ups and existing companies, as well as introductions to potential investors in the public and private sectors. The program was inaugurated in 2001 and expanded in 2012 under the Beshear administration.

The London facility contains office space at below market cost for potential tenant businesses. One of these is KRHIT, a software development company that is designing networks so rural Kentucky medical service providers can share medical information. Owner Jeff Campbell told Salerno and Fern he appreciates the center and the affordable office space and infrastructure it provides his business.

At an impromptu press conference following the tour Salerno and Fern gave their impressions of the facility, its programs, and tenants.

Salerno repeatedly voiced her admiration for the way partnerships between multiple levels of government, non-profit and for-profit private enterprises were managed in “places where you have limited amounts of resources.”

“It’s so nice to come and see where rural America has leveraged the money that the federal government gives with the non-profits, the private enterprise, and with some creative people here at Kentucky Highlands,” Salerno said.

Fern praised the facility for being a “very good example of the overall goals” of USDA Rural Development.

The 2-year-old facility also currently houses a patent attorney and a web developer, among other start-ups. Businesses housed in the facility sometimes use the services of the firms with which they share space, Campbell said.  The facility also contains a laboratory space, currently empty, that may become home to a forensics firm in the near future, according to Schutters.

The ambitions of the center go beyond just filling the building with tenants, though, as officials spoke in broad terms of energizing small business growth and improving quality of life for rural Kentuckians.

“The entrepreneurs we met in this building may be the next big employers in rural Kentucky,” Salerno said.

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