Innovation hubs are social, community, work space or research centers that provide subject-matter expertise on technology trends, knowledge and strategic innovation management, and industry-specific insights. These hubs enable active knowledge transfer between participants. Here, decision makers can meet and brainstorm with others and discuss their complex challenges.

Local leaders are joining together to build one in Paducah. This regional “makerspace” is slated to go far beyond replacing the Paducah Area Technology Center (ATC). It will allow "informal, creative collisions" among technology, industry, trade, the arts, and whatever else can be thought up - building bridges into lifelong passions, higher education and new and existing businesses.

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 “We are helping education become more innovative and really more in touch with the student,” explained Sprocket Board President and Innovation Hub Development Manager, Monica Bilak,. Sprocket is a place where you learn for the sake of learning.

Sprocket is located inside the Coke Plant in paducah and opened last year. At Sprocket, they teach kids skills of the 21st century workforce. “Let’s help them become creative and great thinkers for sustaining our community and growing it,” said Bilak.

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What they both are doing is trying to turn kids into creators. Ultimately, local leaders hope that will create a bigger workforce.

That’s what the Paducah Board of Education is working toward when they approved the bid for the Paducah Innovation Hub that will sit right behind Paducah Tilghman High School and serve students from across our region.

Superintendent Dr. Donald Shively said he wants students to become successful in Paducah. “We are educating using our local tax dollars to educate these students to a very high level,” Shively told me. “But, if they don’t come back and work in Paducah by design, then what’s the return on our taxpayers’ dollar?”

This mini version has only been open since March and has taught 200 students so far. “The kids that leave here come away with skills that you just can’t get in a normal classroom experience,” said Bilak. “It’s very hands on, and it’s very high tech.”

Why Is the Hub Needed?

Bilak says the Hub is a response to a talent gap in our area and the stagnant population. “We have a workforce problem in our area. We get our students college and career ready, and then we send them off. Most times, they aren’t returning.”

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Bilak hopes that the Hub will get young students thinking about what they want to do for a career much earlier than high school. “We hope to inspire them to try different things in the Hub by giving them a collaboration space to do that.” The result, she hopes, would be more of our young people returning home to open their own business or join a more-thriving workforce.

“We’d like to keep our kids here or give them more viable options to return,” Bilak added. “The workforce is a different place than it was five years ago. There are jobs popping up that didn’t even exist before. Paducah has to be on the cutting edge and recognize that the workforce is constantly changing. We hope to do this with the Hub.”

Ray, Black and Sons bid was accepted by the school board for $22,611,654. Paducah Independent School District will pay for the project through grants and help from the Kentucky Department of Education.

So far, the district has received $4.2 million in grants for the project.