Mike Jackson: Opening Doors
By Daniel Lowry
The wooden, weather-worn green door is at the end of the narrow sidewalk that is made of old, red bricks; smooth with thousands of footsteps over time, and it opens into 201 East Third Street in downtown Maysville.
Mike Jackson has gone through that door for 10 years now, right into his office of the Maysville Regional Entrepreneurship Center, which began under a partnership led by Maysville Community and Technical College (MCTC).
His job is to help people start their own businesses.
“Mike’s success stories are legend, almost,” says David Cartmell, who has been mayor of Maysville for two decades. “Mike has done so many things. He’s a necessary and integral part of starting business here, and people know they can always count on him.”
Mike Jackson’s desk is covered with work. He has papers, a calendar, a planner, two phones, a computer, a printer, pens, files and more. The office is small and neat, and more than 400 clients have worked with him over the years. They are all people who have dreams of owning their own business.
One woman came into Mike’s office with a feeling of total defeat. “I just can’t do this,” she told him. “It’s just overwhelming.”
She had wanted to start her own hair salon, but the financing, business plan, all the small details and aspects had taken their toll.
Before starting his role with Entrepreneurship Center, Mike Jackson had retired from the University of Kentucky where he had worked as an agricultural and rural development agent. He also had three years of training under the Kentucky Entrepreneurial Coaches Institute, which prepared him to be certified in developing and coaching new businesses.
“She needed a business plan to do her financing, and I gave her all the materials that we would utilize,” says Mike.
Mike helped her write her plan, and he worked her through the whole process. Her business opened in downtown Maysville and became a thriving success.
From 2007 until 2017, Mike Jackson has helped an average of more than six businesses get launched each year in the Maysville area. He even helped his wife begin her business, which has taken off.
“Mike doesn’t just talk it, he does it,” says Mayor Cartmell. “He’s dedicated to his craft.”
In the spring of 2010, when a company that manufactured custom motors was about to leave the area for Mexico, one of the workers, Dan Marshall, came to Mike and had an idea to pick up where the company was leaving off – with his own business.
“It was a pipe dream that I had,” says Marshall. “My wife thought I was crazy.”
But Dan Marshall walked through the green door and sat right across from Mike Jackson and put everything into motion.
“Mike was instrumental,” Marshall says. “I still have the folder he put together for me on how to get everything started. It included virtually every aspect of the business plan I needed for financing.”
Marshall’s “pipe dream” became a reality called Superior Windings, which has nine dedicated, full-time employees, and a potential new contract with a company in Germany.
“Mike is a silent hero for small business,” says Marshall. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Mike works with start-ups, business expansions and purchases. He has helped people turn their dreams into realities for things like a grocery store, a bowling alley, a fitness center and more. He has helped small businesses secure more than $8.5 million in loans to get started.
“I want to see the community prosper,” he says.
But Mike Jackson and the Maysville Regional Entrepreneurship Center are living on borrowed time. The Center has been operating on grant funds that have continued to decline, and are set to expire at the end of September 2017. MCTC is exploring alternative methods of funding to keep the program alive.
“It was a two-year grant, and it’s been renewed multiple times,” says Mike. As the years went by, the money kept shrinking. Mike cut back his hours and tries to see people by appointment.
For Mike Jackson, it’s a passion. But he admits that he can’t do the job for free. “I’ve got to feed my family,” he says. Even still, he would keep running the center as long as the funding is available. When asked how long he would come into the office to help people launch their dreams, he doesn’t pause. He looks out across his desk, with its files, planners and two phones, and he peers at the green door.
“I'd work here as long as I could physically walk through that door,” he says.
For now, the door is open to people with dreams. They can simply walk into Mike Jackson’s office and he’ll help them. For the sake of Maysville, and all the “pipe dreams” that are out there, all the Dan Marshalls of the world, let’s hope that door stays open.