By Chris Cathers
In early March, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced a $12 million investment for addiction recovery and workforce development in Kentucky’s Appalachian counties, including more than $867,000 for a manufacturing project in Knott County focused on the arts.
Troublesome Creek Stringed Instruments Co., which is located in Hazard Community and Technical College’s Kentucky School of Craft in Hindman, will manufacture high-end custom artisanal guitars, mandolins and mountain dulcimers from Appalachian hardwoods. The Appalachian Artisan Center’s existing School of Luthiery, also in Hindman, will serve as the workforce development arm; Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) will provide financial assistance for training.
The company will rent the space from HCTC, and, according to an ARC press release, it will be Knott County’s first manufacturing facility.
“I think it will mean more for what it represents than what it actually is,” said Doug Naselroad, master luthier at the Hindman School of Luthiery and director of Troublesome Creek. “It’s going to be a nice shop that employs people, but it will represent a community that has pressed its infrastructure to its best use to address a need of the people there. I think we’re modeling something that will bring a lot of regional and national attention to Hindman.”
Employment projections for Troublesome Creek are 18 employees for the initial three years of the grant, growing to 37 by the end of year six and ultimately reaching 65 employees. Workforce development is only part of the ARC funding. The other is addiction recovery, which Troublesome Creek is also addressing through partnerships with Hickory Hills Recovery Center and Knott County Drug Court to put recovering addicts who have an interest in luthiery to work.
“That’s the excitement of it for me, when people can discover they have value doing something they never dreamed they’d be doing,” Naselroad said. “We’ve got a guy coming to work in the next month or so. He’s a former coal miner, came through drug court. He bottomed out in a lot of ways, but he wants to work for us, to start over and I have a very optimistic view of how that’s going to go. We want to make fine instruments for the sake of making fine instruments, but also for the recovery of people in the community.”
Apart from the significant relationship with ARC, Naselroad said this initiative would not have happened without cooperation from other partners. The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development loaned Troublesome Creek money for machinery. The United States Department of Agriculture and Appalachian Impact Fund assisted with seed money. A grant from the Kentucky Arts Council has helped train some patients at Hickory Hills in the art of luthiery.
Naselroad said local leaders are cautiously optimistic about the initiative’s prospects.
“I think they’re getting a little excited now. Up to the point where we finally gained approval, they were appropriately skeptical of the funding ever coming through. They’ve been promised a lot in the past and been disappointed,” Naselroad said. “When they see we’re actually working and giving paychecks, and the local payroll tax starts coming in, I think they’ll be happy.”
Though Naselroad is a Winchester resident, he spends much of his time in Hindman to the point that he said he feels his prosperity is tied to the community’s success.
“Succeeding at this model, creating an example of what can be done with other businesses in the county and region, it really makes you feel a responsibility,” he said. “Working the arts into recovery efforts, working recovery efforts into economic development, that’s a sacred trust people put in you. We don’t want to drop the ball.”