Finger-Lickin' Good

If you think businesses need big, grimy cities to succeed, check out Lexington, Kentucky, and decide for yourself whether the grass is bluer on the other side.

For those of us who live in the cities that dwell in the spotlight (think NYC, LA, DC), it's sometimes hard to remember that businesses can exist just fine backstage. In the first of an occasional series, we take a look at one american community getting rave reviews from its entrepreneurs: Lexington, Kentucky. Mr. Ed would have liked this city, and so would Bill Gates. There aren't many places you can say that about.

To the uninformed entrepreneur, it's easy to see why one might pass up the chance to put down business roots here. As stereotypes go, Lexington should have more in common with the Dukes of Hazzard than the Duke of Edinburgh. But actually, Kentucky's second-largest city isn't just metropolitan; it's cosmopolitan, with universities and colleges, an opera house, theaters, nightclubs, coffee-houses and quaint book nooks to go with the Barnes & Nobles. Education is the biggest employer in the city, but it's still horses that Lexington is best known for.

In fact, the equine industry pumps "hundreds of millions of dollars into the community," according to Adam Edelen, vice president of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce. Lexington is the thoroughbred horse capitol of the world. Downtown, the city courthouse has statues of not soldiers but stallions. This is where the Sultan of Dubai shops to fill his foreign stables. Queen Elizabeth has visited Lexington and has boarded horses here, and William Shatner owns a horse farm in nearby Woodford County. Equestrian or no, entrepreneurs could feel comfortable here. And judging from what several of them have to say, they do. That comfort goes beyond just the mere ability to make a living. "If you want to talk about the economy, you have to talk about the quality of life," insists Edelen. "It's what lures people here. You don't live in Lexington so you can take a direct flight to London or Milan. You live in Lexington because it's one of the greatest places in the country-in the world. It's one of the rare places, except maybe for [Northern California's] Napa Valley, where we really use the quality of life and natural beauty as an economic development tool."

Geoff Williams lives in Cincinnati, where he frequently writes for Entrepreneur. He has a vivid memory of his mother dragging him and his younger brother to a Lexington horse farm to watch Queen Elizabeth wave to an excited crowd as her limousine left the grounds. It was a three-hour round trip for a three-second glimpse.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Finger-Lickin' Good.

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