Finger-Lickin' Good

Opportunities In Lexington

If you can get employees to Lexington for an interview, you've probably got them hooked. "I think we have a lot of the big-city attributes without the big-city problems," raves George Freeman, 40, an entrepreneur in nearby Winchester and the fourth-generation co-owner (with brother Reid, 41) of The Freeman Corporation, a company that manufactures veneer for paneling, flooring and furniture. Freeman has watched his family's almost century-old firm evolve with the Internet. The company not only imports and exports veneer worldwide (only from logs harvested from a third-party-accredited managed forest), but also owns veneernet.com, an online marketplace for veneer manufacturers, and timbersource.com, an online timber listing and notification site.

The Lexington area has been good to The Freeman Corporation. "We don't have pollution, we don't have traffic, and we don't have much of a crime problem," says Freeman. "Yet we have wonderful restaurants, we've got a lot of talented people through the universities, we have the arts, and we have college athletics. It's a vibrant community, yet it still keeps a little of the small-town charm.

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"Even though Lexington is a little off the beaten track in technology and some other things, it's a wonderful city with a whole lot to offer, and it's enabled us to attract high-caliber employees and retain them," says Freeman. "We've never had an employee who wanted to leave the central Kentucky area."

Tim Campbell, 37, and Rick Ford, 48, tend to agree. In mid-1999, they launched iHigh.com, a network connecting sports and other school-sponsored activities at high schools in 33 states and counting. Campbell and Ford lived in Lexington before starting their company and considered moving elsewhere, but no other city seemed to make sense. COO Campbell says: "The 411 on Lexington is that it's a small city, and there's a good technological base here and a good pool of people to draw from. It doesn't have quite the feeling that San Francisco or Boston might have, but the upside is, the turnover is much lower because people want to live here because the quality of life is so good."

Adds CEO Ford: "We've got the Reds, the Bengals, all the sports activities taking place in Cincinnati and Louisville." Not to mention the Wildcats, the University of Kentucky's wildly popular basketball team.

Lexington has many commodities-the green grass, the trees and the horses that gallop underneath the big, blue sky-but it hasn't overlooked its entrepreneurs.

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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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