Finding Success in Appalachia
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
From atop a mountain in Pikeville, KY, local entrepreneur and small business owner Rusty Justice explains how he feels he has found success because of his location in Appalachia - not in spite of it.
Full video transcript:
There is a story of something happened to me about three years ago that I think really is instructive about the challenges of living here. So about three years ago, a Catholic Deacon and myself set up a pilgrimage to Appalachian Catholic heritage sites. And we advertised it in Lexington at the Diocese of Lexington. And in about three days, we filled a Greyhound bus. And so I drove to Lexington and met in a Wal-Mart parking lot the group and got on the bus. And I led the tour for three days. And so we traveled the first day into Benham coal camp, to the Schoolhouse Inn. And Benham is in a very narrow valley. And we had to park the bus on an incline. And the doorway was at the bottom of the incline. And these were mostly older Catholics that we were taking on this tour. And so we helped them down the incline off the bus and checked into the hotel and spent the night. And the next morning, we help them board. Well, the bus is still sitting on the incline, and so we had to help them back up the bus and kind of back up the aisles to their seats, to the back of the bus and fill the bus. 50 or 60 people. The next morning, we gather up at St. Francis Church and have Mass. Before they left, after church, they sat in the pews on one side of the church and he asked me to say something to them. Most of them had never been, I'm going to say 90 percent have never been to Appalachia before. And so I asked them to think about boarding the bus in Benham and boarding the bus in Lexington. Same people, same bus. But yet getting on the bus in Benham was just a little harder. It didn't make them dumber. It didn't make them less than. It's just part of being here in the mountains.
Well, Appalachia's where my heart is. It's my home. I love the people of Appalachia. I couldn't stand the thought of being somewhere else. It's a challenging place, but it's probably for me, the best place. It's where I fit. It's hard to define, but it's where I feel complete. It's where I feel safe. It's where I feel loved. It's where I feel challenged. It's a misunderstood place. A lot of the problems that it's known for are due either to misunderstanding, that people don't understand what it is they're seeing, or it's due to the fact that they are trying to introduce solutions here to our problems that make sense where they live and they don't work here. They either don't understand the culture. It's a unique, distinct culture. They don't understand the geography, and they don't understand the history.
My job now is kind of hard to describe, but I'm a partner in businesses. I've always been in business. I'm a small business man. But primarily my background is in engineering. The nature of my work in one of my businesses is to do excavation and site development, highway work, just land forming. Then I'm involved, I'm a co-founder of a software company and it's a great little company that does extraordinarily amazing things here in the mountains.
Bit Source is a totally unique thing. It was motivation through starvation, as one of our developers said. We just had a collapse in our economy here locally. And my partner and I had worked alongside so many people that were so talented and and there was no jobs for them. And so they're leaving the region. There was a demand in that industry. And so we saw a market demand and an untapped resource, and that was our human capital here. Being business people, we just matched those two together and started down that path. I have a friend that says, life's what happens while you make other plans. If you would have told me when I was 55 that I was going to be a software, you know, I would've said, that's funny story. It's just what's necessary to help solve this problem.
Bit Source just came along at a point in time where everything was right from a notoriety perspective. It was the end of the Obama era, the beginning of the Trump era. And so the media was here, most people were here for some other reason than Bit Source, and Bit Source was a story device. Plus, it's a happy story. It's a hopeful story. And we never sought any of the attention. That's one of the things, is we didn't seek this attention. If we were invited, we accepted as a general rule. And as a result, I mean, I've been to the White House, was invited to MIT, got to go to Google. And just met some amazing people, all that see, I think, that we're just trying to help. We're helping to build those bridges between Appalachia and the greater outside world. And whatever we can do to help do that, we have tried.
Oh, I think this region is why I've had any success that I've had in throughout my life. I've been very fortunate in my life. I've got to travel a lot. I've got to experience a lot because I always felt like I was standing on a solid foundation. I knew that no matter what came my way, there was a place where people cared about me, that celebrated my achievements, that my achievements were their achievements. And I feel the same way. Their achievements are my achievements. When someone from here succeeds, it makes me happy. I can't explain why, but that's just a common thing in our culture here. We kind of are fractious. We will fuss and fight with each other. But when one of us goes out and succeeds, we all celebrate it. It's why I love this place.
I think that Appalachia is a great opportunity. I'm very optimistic about the future in Appalachia. Any smart business person knows to buy low and sell high. This is the time to invest in Appalachia. People are counting it out and they're wrong. There is so much untapped potential here in so many ways. It has so much to offer. And I think eventually people will recognize it. I think we're right at the beginning of a great era for Appalachia.