Billionaire Steve Case wants to redirect venture capitalist funds from along the coast to small towns in the middle of the United States. This is because Case is convinced that there is an untapped gold mine of entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas who go unnoticed; he now travels the entire country up to twelve hours a day in a little red bus in search for promising startups. He has already accumulated 150 million dollars for his “Rise of the Rest Fund” – an organization that gives support to entrepreneurs in areas that are generally overlooked by venture capitalists. Although only relatively small amounts of money are awarded to individual entrepreneurs, it can have an astonishing impact on small town economies.
One startup supported by the fund is AppHarvest – a company created by Johnathan Webb designed to build high-tech greenhouses in Eastern Kentucky, specifically in Pikeville. Currently, Pikeville has been struck by a wave of severe economic stress. Approximately one-third of residents’ income falls below the poverty line, there are limited to no jobs available, and the opioid epidemic has devastated the town. Despite all of this, Webb believes that it is the perfect place to enhance the agricultural industry. Typically, produce is shipped all the way from the West Coast or Mexico across the United States to its final destination; this can take days and is quite costly due to the amount of fuel required. On the other hand, Kentucky is a central state, allowing for produce grown there to be shipped anywhere in the U.S. in a single day or less. Furthermore, in this greenhouse system, 80% less water will be used and harsh pesticide use will be eliminated entirely. Recovering opioid addicts will be hired to work in the greenhouses and paid $13 per hour. With all of this taken in to account, it is convincing that AppHarvest may bring about an era of significant economic prosperity to the middle of the country.