WHITESBURG, Ky. — Josh and Whitney Howard hope they are part of a new trend – Eastern Kentucky natives who return to their hometowns not just to work but to invest in and revitalize the downtowns where they grew up.
They are using a microloan program from Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp. to finance their latest project in Whitesburg, which will be patterned after successful redevelopment in Pineville and Harlan, where they have rehabbed several buildings and converted them to condos, apartments, office and retail space, a bed and breakfast, a laundromat, and a tavern. In addition, they are working to open four locations of a bar/restaurant called Butcher’s Pub and franchise it.
Altogether, they have created about 65 jobs and renovated 12 buildings. The Kentucky Highlands Micro Enterprise Loan Fund has closed five loans over an eight-year period with the couple.
“The Howards are a great example of why the microloan fund was created,” said Jerry Rickett, president and CEO of KHIC. “We want to help homegrown entrepreneurs invest in their communities to create jobs and add to the tax base and quality of life of the communities in Eastern Kentucky.”
Josh, a native of Pineville, and Whitney, who is from Letcher County, are attorneys who are expanding their law practice. The Howards are renovating a stone building on Main Street across from the Letcher County Courthouse. The building, which was built in 1914, had been vacant for at least 20 years and was extremely dilapidated. Josh Howard said he thinks the only reason the building is still standing is because the walls were constructed with thick stone that was cut out of the top of Pine Mountain.
“We are here because it is Whitney’s hometown,” Josh Howard said. “Our goal is to be in small towns. There is unlimited potential in Pineville, Harlan, Williamsburg and Whitesburg. We hope our investment in Whitesburg will inspire others. It shows that life is coming back to the city. The mayor has been very proactive, and there is unlimited potential.”
The building, which should be finished later this spring, will contain the law office on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.
Josh Howard credits the microloan program for the success in Pineville and Harlan as well as the Butcher’s Pub concept, which is open in Pineville and will open in Williamsburg and London.
“The microloan process is different from traditional loans where you go through a loan officer and the board makes a decision,” Howard said. “They don’t always see your vision. With a microloan, you go through a business plan, do research. That’s what has helped me. A lot of businesses come and go. They probably don’t have a business plan. We have the personal and national data to back up our plan. Businesses would be a lot more successful if they followed that model.”
The Micro Enterprise Loan Fund was created at Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation to address the needs of small business start-ups and expansion projects. Using funds from USDA and SBA, KHIC can make loans of up to $50,000 to small businesses. In addition to the financing, each client receives the added service of technical assistance.
Visit www.khic.org/micro-enterprise-loans/ for additional information, or call Joey Carter at (606) 864-5175 to inquire.