Create Bridges process graphic. Step 1: Raise awareness of the role these important businesses play in the local economy. Step 2: Determine challenges negatively impacting businesses. Step 3: Develop & implement strategies to strengthen businesses.

CREATE BRIDGES is a 3 year program for multi-county regions to develop their retail and hospitality industries. Kentucky is fortunate to be one of 3 states to participate in the pilot of this program. The project brings an innovative approach to addressing business and workforce development at no cost to the region, thanks to a Walmart grant.

The CREATE BRIDGES initiative was launched to develop and test a process to promote and strengthen these industries, particularly in rural areas. The process is designed to:

  1. Raise awareness of the role these important businesses play in the local economy;
  2. Determine challenges and barriers negatively impacting those businesses; and
  3. Develop and implement strategies to strengthen the retail, accommodations, tourism, and entertainment sectors within a region. 


Process Update | September 2021

Workforce development trainings are now available through the Rise platform. The trainings are designed to assist employers with trainings for employees to be successful managers and leaders, as well as skill building in the areas of sales and marketing. Employers outside the pilot region and/or outside the industries can sign up for 6 weeks of access to the platform for $39. Contact Mercedes Maness for more details. Handout promoting training opportunities for Kentucky small businesses.

Nearly 100 Prosper Appalachia interns enrolled in online workforce development trainings over Summer 2021. These trainings were created to meet the identified needs of Eastern Kentucky business owners and employees through the CREATE BRIDGES program at the University of Kentucky. Learn more.


Kentucky Counties Participating in Pilot

FOCUS (Five Original Counties United for Success) Region - Jackson, Clay, Lee, Owsley and Leslie Counties. April Renner from Jackson Energy Cooperative serves as the Chairperson.

Additional Kentucky counties: Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin and Wolfe.


CREATE Data Profiles for two Kentucky Regions

FOCUS   |   Big Sandy


Pilot Program Successes

Create Bridges and FOCUS Inc. Provide Worker Incentives to Local Employees

Regional Youth Assist Local Business Owner with Online Marketing


The Create Bridges team in Kentucky has many valuable partners:

FOCUS "Five Original Counties Uniting for Success" Team from Jackson, Clay, Lee, Owsley and Leslie Counties. April Renner, Chairperson.

CEDIK - Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky

College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Kentucky

Jackson Energy Cooperative

Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc.

Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corp.

Goodwill Industries of Kentucky

Kentuky Retail Federation

Hazard Community Technical College

Local Chambers of Commerce

Local business owners

Local school systems


National Partners

The Create Bridges Initiative is a partnership among the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC), University of Kentucky’s Community & Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service’s Community and Economic Development (UACES-CED), and Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service.


Contact Us

Create Bridges Kentucky is on course to have workforce development trainings online by spring of 2021. Contact Mercedes Maness at to sign up your business for the workforce development trainings.

For general inquiries, contact Dr. Alison Davis at or by phone at 859-257-7260.