Eastern Kentucky Locals Go On to Lead Regional Economic Development Organization

Eastern Kentucky Locals Go On to Lead Regional Economic Development Organization Main Photo

16 Feb 2024

Martin County natives Colby Kirk and Christi Brown are taking over the leadership of One East Kentucky. OEK is leading the way in providing jobs and education opportunities for Eastern Kentucky residents with a focus on keeping resources local. These talented locals are finding new ways to embrace tradition while moving the local economy forward. 

Kirk Recruits New Job Opportunities so Residents Can Stay Local

During his time at Sheldon Clark High School, Colby Kirk was the student body president and a football player. Since graduating from the University of Kentucky, Kirk has stayed true to his East Kentucky roots by helping the local economy thrive. Now, he’s become the President & CEO of One East Kentucky.

“It is such an honor to have the opportunity to work in economic development for not just my hometown, but the greater Eastern Kentucky region,” he said of his new role at OEK. “Eastern Kentucky has faced daunting challenges, like the downturn of the coal industry. But I also deeply understand our region’s immense opportunity.”

Speaking to Eastern Kentucky’s pool of highly skilled workers, Kirk plans to recruit more industries to open businesses in the community. “I feel really passionate about the idea that a person shouldn’t be forced to move away from their hometown for a good-paying job,” he said.  “I know of several family members and friends who have had to do just that because the opportunity hasn’t existed for them here yet.” Among the industries he hopes to attract are light manufacturing, food and beverage processing, and warehousing and logistics operations. These industries have already begun to see success in the Eastern Kentucky region.

Beyond the available workforce, Kirk says the value proposition for expanding and relocating industries is also tied to residents’ quality of life. When discussing what workers have to gain by staying in the local community, Kirk said, “We offer an unbelievable quality of life. Housing is more abundant and affordable than in our urban, neighboring regions, and we have an overall cheaper cost of living thanks to competitive utility rates.” It’s no wonder that remaining in East Kentucky is many residents’ first choice.

Christi Brown Navigates Community Development Needs

Christi Brown, OEK’s Industry Liason, is also a proud Martin Countian and University of Kentucky graduate. Reflecting on her work at OEK, Brown says she feels a sense of responsibility towards her home state. “I feel a deep commitment and responsibility towards the region to create sustainable economic improvements, positively impacting the lives of the people and place I hold most dear,” she said.

Much of Brown’s role is understanding the diverse needs of the different communities OEK serves. “Each area has unique challenges and aspirations, demanding a tailored approach,” she noted. “Through strategic planning initiatives, community engagement, and adaptability to address unique challenges, OEK is helping them navigate and discover new paths to move their communities forward.”

Prioritizing Local Development

Brown and Kirk are just two examples of talented Kentucky natives creating jobs for citizens like themselves. Speaking about OEK’s economic development issues, Kirk said, “As we see successes in creating opportunities for these industries in our region, I am confident that those same folks who had to move away for work will be looking to move back home.”