Dec 16 2013
December 9th was a historic day for our region. More than 1,700 people from across Kentucky gathered at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville to unite for one common cause, "Shaping Our Appalachian Region."
Governor Beshear and I launched the "SOAR" initiative seven weeks ago in response to the high unemployment rates plaguing southern and eastern Kentucky, now painfully highlighted by the loss of more than 6,000 coal mining jobs in the last two years. It was abundantly clear during the SOAR Summit that you care, that you are ready to dig deep and invest your own talents and ideas for the betterment of our Appalachian region.
Healthy discussions brought forth innovative ideas at each breakout session including: job creation and retention; entrepreneurship and innovation; infrastructure; public and private investments; tourism; regional collaboration and identity; leadership development and youth engagement; lifelong learning; health, biotechnology, and human services.
We gained hope from success stories across the region, and other parts of the country. The voices of our youth pressed for more opportunities, and encouraged other young people to return home to build a career, like the owner of Treehouse Cafe in Hazard, Jenn Noble.
"My city needed me more than New York City needed me," said Noble of her decision to return to Perry County.
It was our unique sandstone rock formations that first attracted rock climbing enthusiast and Microsoft Corporation executive, Audrey Sniezek to our region. After meeting the superintendent of Lee County schools during one of her visits, Audrey brought Microsoft's TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools) Program to Beattyville too. Technology professionals now remotely teach our students computer science technology, opening new doors to their futures. Watch Lee County's Story>>>
The Summit also introduced us to Joe and Tony Sertich from Northern Minnesota, a rural region that suffered a major decline in the iron industry 70 years ago. The state created the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) in 1941 to promote and invest in business, community and workforce development to help revive their mining region. Today, they have more jobs and vibrant communities than ever before. Learn more at IRRRB.org.
I want to commend our state legislators who represent ARC-designated counties for participating in the summit and avidly sharing their own ideas and commitments to the region. This must remain a bipartisan effort to overcome the challenges before us.
Within 30 days, we'll receive a report back from the Rural Policy Research Institute, the organization that collaborated with the planning committee to bring together the SOAR Summit. In 60 days, Governor Beshear and I plan to report back to you with a structured plan of execution to keep the SOAR initiative going strong.
The Governor and I are committed to partnering with local, state and federal stakeholders to ensure the path forward is supported through public and private investments. The Governor and I foresee a major broadband highway stretched across the region. It will take major financial commitments that we have just begun to navigate, but we believe a high-capacity fiber will launch us into the global network. The Center for Rural Development is finalizing a feasibility study, and we will have more information soon about what I like to call eastern Kentucky's "Super I-Way."
We have a lot of work ahead, and many more issues to address, but I believe a historical movement began on December 9th in eastern Kentucky and the road ahead looks brighter than ever before.
The SOAR Summit would not have been possible without the financial support of the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development. Thank you!
Media coverage of the SOAR Summit helped extend the summit to those who couldn't make the trip to Pikeville, and your work is certainly appreciated.
Links to SOAR Summit Media Reports
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