The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) is a community-based economic development organization serving the 32 counties of Appalachia Ohio. The mission of ACEnet is to grow the regional economy by supporting entrepreneurs and strengthening economic sectors.
ACEnet staff accomplishes this mission by partnering with regional microenterprise and development practitioners to create a healthy local economy, allowing opportunity for all residents to start businesses, obtain quality jobs, and connect with other entrepreneurs for mutual benefit.
In 1985, a small group of community members committed to economic justice and building a healthy regional economy in Appalachia Ohio created ACEnet. Originally known as the Worker Owned Network, ACEnet focused on helping low-income people start worker-owned businesses. After receiving initial funding from the State of Ohio and the Commission on Religion in Appalachia, the three staff members began work in an office above the Athens College Bookstore. Their efforts gave rise to ten worker cooperatives including Casa Nueva Restaurant & Cantina and Crumbs Bakery.
ACEnet staff began researching and developing strategies to create a greater number of sustainable jobs in 1989. While engaged in a world-wide study of successful models for community economic development, ACEnet learned about communities in northern Italy which contained small manufacturers with twenty or less employees. These manufacturers organized themselves into networks around opportunities presented by emerging niche markets. Areas with significant business network formations experienced substantial economic revitalization, including the generation of new businesses and dramatic increases in the standard of living for low-income individuals. Studying these Italian community models planted new ideas for sustainable, community-based, economic development in Southeast Ohio.
In 1990, ACEnet established a small business incubator facility at 94 Columbus Road designed to provide start-up businesses with below-market rates for space and services such as reception, fax, computers and other resources, including technology training & assistance. Designed to promote collaboration and networking among low-income small business owners, ACEnet headquarters is still located at this facility today.
ACEnet began developing the Food Ventures Center, a sector-specific incubator focused on the needs of companies producing specialty food products, in 1993. The Food Ventures Center provided licensed commercial kitchen space for entrepreneurs to develop and produce their product lines without the financial burden of paying individually for licensing. In October of 1996, ACEnet celebrated the grand opening of the Food Ventures Center.
In 2005 ACEnet established a second small business incubator facility at 296 S Harper Street in Nelsonville, the Nelsonville Business Center, that encompasses 94,800 sq. ft of warehouse and office space.
2018 saw the grand opening of both ACEnet’s Food & Farm Enterprise Center and Wood Manufacturing Center in the Nelsonville Business Center. The FFEC offers farmers an ODA-licensed and inspected facility containing a produce processing facility and a separate local meat processing facility to assist local producers with value-added processing for their meat. ACEnet’s Wood Manufacturing Center hosts and assists regional wood manufacturing businesses with equipment and space for workers’ own equipment.
Today, ACEnet continues to provide incubation space and operate the Food Ventures Center, Food & Farm Enterprise Center, and Wood Manufacturing Center.