By Molly Moore
The March 14 launch of Mountain Tech Media in Whitesburg, Ky., was a fun event with local supporters, food and speeches. Like most new businesses, the technology company aims to make a profit, but the worker-owned cooperative also intends to support community economic development in the area by providing media and web services to other ventures.
Mountain Tech Media is one of many businesses with a core goal of addressing a social problem — a concept known as “social enterprise.” Social enterprise businesses are motivated equally by profit and by a desire “to improve the community and the environment where that business is,” says Tom Redfern of the community development organization Rural Action. The nonprofit houses two social enterprises: Zero Waste, a program that cleans up and reduces the environmental impact of various festivals, and Chesterhill Produce Auction, which provides a central market for rural farmers and draws customers from a 60-mile radius who are looking for affordable, fresh produce.
Social enterprise in Appalachia is on an “upward trajectory,” according to Redfern. In March, Rural Action helped organize the first Appalachian Conference on Social Enterprise, which was held in Huntington, W.Va., and included approximately 100 attendees from business, nonprofit and academic backgrounds. “People are looking for market-based entrepreneurial solutions to community problems, and this is what a social enterprise can address — something that can actually begin to sustain itself, [and] begin to employ people doing positive and sustainable work,” Redfern says.