Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Printer-publisher in hard-hit Appalachian coalfield uses business-school help to revitalize company

A printing and newspaper company in southeastern Kentucky that relied heavily on the coal industry has learned to survive in an area where many residents have fled by going back to school, Alana Semuels reports for The Atlantic. (Semuels photo: A new machine has helped)

CFO Paul Whitaker, whose parents started Superior Printing and Publishing in 1956, credits the company's renewed success with his attendance at 10,000 Small Businesses, a program sponsored by Goldman Sachs, where business owners attend 100 hours of courses.

"So far, around 4,600 business-owners have gone through the program in the United States and in the U.K. According to a report from Babson College, within six months of graduation, 64 percent of them had increased revenue, and 45 percent had added new jobs," Semuels writes. "When it came time for him to come up with a new business plan for the company, Whitaker took the feedback from Babson professors and the other small-business owners and decided he could expand Superior. Professors helped him outline the steps he’d need to take to put that plan into action, and helped him figure out what was viable and what was not."

Whitaker "decided that employees, who were located in two offices in two different rural towns, should come in to a weekly meeting to keep everyone up-to-date," Semuels writes. "He kept in touch with his peers from Babson and some of them became clients, allowing him to expand to print for businesses in other states and cities. He got financing to upgrade some equipment and then decided to buy a newspaper in a neighboring county, since small-town local newspapers, as far as he could tell, weren’t imploding like the rest of the media industry."

"Now, business is triple what it was three years ago, and the company has 18 employees, up from the 13 they had when Whitaker went to Babson," Semuels writes.

Superior publishes the Letcher County Community News-Press, much the smaller of two weeklies in the county. The Mountain Eagle, long known for its coal-industry coverage, has a story this week reporting that productivity of miners in the region has increased but still lags behind those of other coalfields. The Eagle has a paywall; non-subscribers can read stories two weeks after publication.

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