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. 



Create Bridges is a three year pilot. The steps include:

  1. Form a regional steering committee
  2. Conduct an asset map of CREATE businesses and existing training programs
  3. Host a Create Bridges forum
  4. Convene a retail academy
         a. Workforce development
         b. Business retention and expansion program
         c. Employee engagement
  5. Develop new strategies and actions appropriate for region based on data collected during Steps 2-4 (As of January 2021, we are here)


Kentucky Region 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.


Pilot Program Successes

Regional Youth Help Desk Handout - background and successes
Examples of social media created by students:


Kentucky Partners

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.

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