An estimated 1,300 people joined Governor Steve Beshear, Congressman Hal Rogers, and other federal, state, and local leaders for the second SOAR Strategy Summit in Pikeville today.
The summit's goal is to develop and implement strategies for regional growth and development, using goals outlined in SOAR’s first year.
“The fact that more than 1,300 people – plus untold numbers watching television and social media – made SOAR their top priority today, shows the interest and commitment to our work remains remarkably high,” said Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR. “We had robust, thoughtful conversations today on many issues, trying to determine the best ways to collaborate for continued, meaningful progress.”
The summit was originally scheduled for February, but was canceled due to a heavy snowstorm.
Since SOAR launched in 2013, two major infrastructure improvements have begun – the long-awaited four-laning of the Mountain Parkway, and the construction of a statewide broadband network. Eastern Kentucky will be the first priority region for the broadband project.
“Broadband is as important to our progress today as interstate highways were 60 years ago. It’s essential to economic growth and prosperity in eastern Kentucky,” said Congressman Rogers. “These SOAR Summits allow us to synthesize what is going on in other parts of the region, so we can implement successful ideas across county lines. Last year, we planned our work and now it’s time to work our plan.”
“The SOAR has attracted national attention because of our unique structure. We put party politics aside and simply reached out to people who want eastern Kentucky to succeed. That grassroots model has proven incredibly powerful,” said Gov. Beshear. “We will keep leveraging that enthusiasm and vision to help eastern Kentucky reach a new and successful future.”
Several federal representatives spoke about work happening in eastern Kentucky as a result of SOAR, including investments in workforce training, volunteer programs, and education. State legislators addressed the crowd on a variety of challenges and solutions related to the region.
Breakout sessions included open discussions on engaging the next generation of leaders, local foods, computer coding, community health, and tourism as an economic driver.
The SOAR initiative was launched by Gov. Beshear and Rep. Rogers in late 2013, after a stunning downturn in the coal market exacerbated historic challenges in eastern Kentucky related to unemployment and poverty. More than 1,700 Kentuckians attended a one-day SOAR summit in Pikeville in December 2013. SOAR has helped the region develop and put into action new locally-oriented strategies to attack persistent challenges.