Four local businesses got some good news this week in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as SPEDA (Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority) announced the recipients of its inaugural mini-grant series.

The Market on Main, 19 Kilo Turkey Calls, Get Ur Smoke On BBQ and Buck Creek Outfitters were each selected to receive $2,500 for their plans to innovate and expand operations.

These first awards were fast-tracked, according to SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. The grant committee wanted to get funds to recipients sooner than expected given the challenges businesses are facing. Recipients were presented with checks Thursday.

"We are thrilled to present these outstanding local businesses with funds that can help them prepare for the economy's return," Girdler said. "All of them have progressive ideas and will impact this community in a positive light, encouraging entrepreneurship."

Get Ur Smoke On BBQ, a local catering company, food truck and restaurant on U.S. 27, will use mini-grant funds to purchase a double convection oven to expand the menu and increase efficiency. The business is a direct result of owner Josh Anderson's passion for smoking, grilling and cooking -- a passion he fueled by building a smoker with his own two hands that has fed thousands across the community and region. Now he's ready to expand.

"SPEDA is emerging as a great community partner in Somerset and Pulaski County, we are thrilled to have been chosen as a recipient of a mini-grant," Anderson said. "This grant will allow us the opportunity for more menu options and allow us to be more efficient."

Grant funds will aid in the expansion of The Market on Main, a local retail establishment that supports Kentucky farmers and producers. The store has paid out more than $400,000 to farmers and producers across the state since it opened in 2015, and an additional $90,000 to Pulaski County producers and businesses. The Market on Main will soon open a second location within Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, which will increase staff and hours for current employees, offer convenience to customers on the north end of town, and provide the hospital with an expanded facility with more inventory and expanded hours to serve patients and their families.

Owners John and Jamie Fitzwater plan to use the SPEDA grant to fund refrigeration costs at the new location.

"We are so grateful for all the work that SPEDA is doing to improve our local and regional economy," Mrs. Fitzwater said. "Especially in a time of such economic uncertainty, this grant will go a long way to enabling the Market on Main to expand to our second location at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. We cannot wait to support the patients, families, and staff at this important regional institution with our own unique mix of food and gifts."

Supporting customers by maintaining affordable prices was a motivator for Buck Creek Outfitters in applying for SPEDA's mini-grant series. In order to keep prices low, however, the local outdoor adventure company needed funds to purchase more equipment.

"Buck Creek Outfitters is excited to receive this grant from SPEDA," owner Stephen Dykes said. "It will enable us to upgrade our equipment and expand our operations, all while maintaining our affordable rates for our customers. We are looking forward to a great summer."

Paul Underwood's love for the outdoors and hunting fueled his dream to make handcrafted turkey calls. His start-up business, 19 Kilo Turkey Calls, began as a way to combine his passions with a way to give back to others. 19 Kilo Turkey Calls has partnered with Military Missions to donate 10 percent of each sale for care packages to deployed troops. Underwood's son is currently serving in the U.S. Army.

19 Kilo Turkey Calls will use grant funds to accelerate the development of a new turkey call surface and provide a more efficient and effective means to produce mouth calls.

"Grateful, thankful, amazed, excited and blessed are only a few words to describe my feelings right now," Underwood said. "I have always enjoyed the outdoors and the memories I have from the woods are some of the best. Having an opportunity to grow a business in the hunting industry has always been a dream. That dream is a little closer thanks to SPEDA and its attention to small businesses."

Businesses could apply for a variety of projects, including but not limited to strategic planning and management; purchase or physical improvements to facilities or equipment; training; or leadership, planning and management capacity initiatives. Applicants were required to demonstrate their benefit to the community -- presenting an overall plan, specific need for investment and ways in which funds will be utilized.

Announced last fall, the program is intended not only for expanding businesses but for startups as well. SPEDA plans to award a total of $10,000 on an annual basis.

Girdler said the mini-grant program was made possible through good management and proper financial oversight at SPEDA that has helped the organization save thousands annually.

"It was important to us to return that savings back into the hands of our business community to spur entrepreneurship," Girdler said. "We want to pay forward our spirit of innovation so that businesses can in turn innovate and make our economy stronger."

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