The public perception of Appalachia has been shaped lately by J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, which pissed some people off mightily because it portrayed the culture as something you need to escape from. And then there was The Glass Castle, which as more about poverty in general than Appalachia, but still.
There are a lot of people who love Appalachia, the wry defiance of its people. And the adaptability of the place. Innovation isn’t only contained in technology. Appalachia produces innovations in all kinds of areas, from social programs to the arts to agriculture and the environment.
Here are some that I came across on a fast tour of Central Appalachia in early May.
Chattanooga is home to – the city says — the country’s third-largest accelerator and some of the Western Hemisphere’s fastest Internet speeds. One of the city’s standout startups is FreightWaves, which offers real-time analytics about the freight industry, and which industry publications peg as nearing a $1 billion valuation. Here’s a list of startups at the Incubator.
Reporting on Corbin, Ky., I came across two companies that sounded interesting. One was a mother-daughter team that owns a lavender farm, Woodstock Lavendar Co., and that has invented a de-budding machine. Another was Class Guard LLC, which was founded by a school administrator as a way to retrofit existing classroom doors to make them bulletproof.
On the Virginia side of Appalachia, I came across a company called Micronic Technologies, in Bristol. It’s received research grants from the USDA and the US Office of Naval Research, among others. It makes a new water filtration technology. Among its board members is the chancellor of nearby University of Virginia-Wise.
In Hindman, Ky., Troublesome Creek Stringed Instruments is making high-end guitars. The market for them is about $2,000. But the company exists to give recovering addicts a second chance: We met three employees doing the painstaking work of piecing together the instruments, shaving and polishing the wood. The small manufacturer was funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission.
In part because of the lower cost of living – and great scenery — Appalachia is also home to outsourced and remote workforces. Two companies focused on training developers on Salesforce technologies include Oktana, a custom software development agency founded in Uruguay. It chose to open its first US development office in downtown Charleston, W.Va. Central App is building a team of remote workers across Appalachia.