Better Living Through Technology: Mountain Tech Media is helping Eastern Kentucky embrace the digital age
October is National Cooperative Month. The Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) is the leading cooperative development organization in Kentucky, and since our founding in 2001, we have helped establish 25 cooperatives and have assisted over 40 cooperatives, mostly agricultural cooperatives. In this Client Spotlight, we highlight a rural cooperative in a different sector, the growing technology economy in Eastern Kentucky.
Founded in 2015 in southeastern Kentucky, Mountain Tech Media is a mission-driven, multi-stakeholder cooperative focused on growing the economy of Eastern Kentucky. Mountain Tech Media (MTM) provides diversified technology and digital design services to organizations and businesses in the Appalachian region and beyond.
Since its launch, several employees of MTM are on their way to becoming worker-owners of the cooperative.
“I believe that being structured as a cooperative is the number one reason why Mountain Tech Media will succeed in southeastern Kentucky,” explains Geoff Marietta, investor and co-founder of MTM. “There are incredibly talented individuals here. Many of them have the raw skills to do the work. However, many of them do not want to do the back-end business pieces, such as invoicing and marketing.”
“Forming a cooperative helped us organize these people, talented in technology, under the umbrella of Mountain Tech Media,” continues Marietta. “It immediately allowed us to offer many services.”
MTM’s services include multimedia production, web design, app development, graphic design, animation, photography, tech consulting and specialized crowd-sourcing solutions. These services are currently provided through a network of eight talented individuals.
Meeting worker and client needs
“We got KCARD involved at the end of 2015, and they were great,” says Marietta. “They came and met with us and Appalshop to discuss what a cooperative is, how control works in a cooperative and how to have ownership shares.” Appalshop provided office space and equipment to help launch the business.
When deciding how the business would be structured and would operate, Marietta liked that with a worker co-op, “You are providing this incentive for worker-owners to actually be invested in the company.
“MTM is dedicated to not only providing technology services to Eastern Kentucky but also providing economic opportunities to the workers of MTM who are critical in providing the services,” says Brent Lackey, KCARD Business Development Specialist.
MTM turned to the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) to assist with the formation of the cooperative and to show how the complex governance structure would work. KCARD worked with MTM on how the cooperative structure would work for this business and helped with membership agreements.
“MTM’s business and organization model are both very unique in Eastern Kentucky, and we were able to provide some guidance in how cooperatives work and establishing the legal structure,” states Lackey.
“There isn’t a diversified digital technology company in the region,” says Jeremy McQueen, co-founder and CEO of MTM. “We offer a one-stop-shop for a client’s tech and digital needs. As we work with clients, we are sharing the ideas of investing in various types of digital projects to bring them up to speed with what other people in national markets are doing.”
Mountain Tech Media’s future
McQueen and Marietta say the future for MTM is dependent on the cooperative structure and their worker-member’s input into the business as it grows. As more workers become members in the cooperative, MTM will evolve, not just to meet the worker-owner’s needs, but also to meet the needs of new clients.
“We are definitely building as we go, but our structure has been very innovative,” Marietta says. “This is the type of structure we need in rural economies where geographical distance and population density really do create a barrier to the means of organizations to serve customers better.”
The Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development helps agricultural producers, agribusinesses, cooperatives, and others by providing assistance with business planning, grant and loan packages, strategic planning, business management reviews, operations and cost analysis, record-keeping development, feasibility studies, and on-site business consultations. Support for KCARD is provided in part by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board and the USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant. To learn more about KCARD services, visit www.kcard.info.
Article first published in October 2017.