Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, co-chairs of SOAR, announced a groundbreaking date for the high-speed, high-capacity broadband project, KentuckyWired (also known as the Super I-way) that will bring access to every county in the Commonwealth upon completion.
Plans are underway for a celebration Aug. 31, 2015, with further details coming soon. The broadband initiative is one of the most significant aspects of SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region). Once completed, Kentuckys network will be one of the fastest, highest-capacity networks in the nation.
“We’re excited to move another step closer to connecting with the global marketplace,” said Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR. “This monumental project has the capacity to change the trajectory of the region, and we are preparing for the new opportunities that lie ahead.”
Arnett also introduced two new Advisory Council members to the board, Dr. William Hacker and Douglas Jones. Dr. Hacker, a Corbin native, is a former commissioner for public health and longtime leader in health care education. Jones, of Hazard, owns Rental Pro with locations in Pikeville, London, Hazard and Somerset.
“We welcome the expertise and insight of Dr. Hacker and Mr. Jones to help shape the future of our region,” said Congressman Rogers. “SOAR is moving into an exciting phase as we take another step forward with broadband implementation and work to attract more jobs and opportunities to the region.”
Todays board meeting comes on the heels of the second-annual SOAR summit in Pikeville in May when more than 1,300 individuals developed and implemented strategies for regional growth and development, using goals outlined in SOARs first year.
The co-chairs thanked the many businesses and organizations that have joined SOAR as corporate sponsors for investing in the people and economy of eastern Kentucky.
SOAR Presenting Partners include the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and KentuckyOne Health. Founding Partners include Aetna, Baptist Health, Booth Energy, Forcht Bank, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Passport Health Plan and Pikeville Medical Center. East Kentucky Partners include Community Trust Bank, Eastern Kentucky University, VanAntwerp Attorneys and Walters Automotive.
The co-chairs also applauded the boards progress in forming ongoing partnerships to propel eastern Kentucky forward in education, tourism, workforce, economic development and health care.
With inspiration from SOAR, several entities across the region have applied for funding support through the new federal Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) grants. The grants are designed to assist communities negatively impacted by the downturn of the coal industry, through projects focused on economic development.
“I was proud to write a letter of support for the POWER grant applications sent in last week,” Gov. Beshear said. “We have had multiple groups apply for grants to assist the region in various ways to help revitalize eastern Kentucky. This is a great opportunity to bring additional resources to the region to expand the capability of our dark fiber from the middle mile all the way into homes and businesses, retrain workers and provide job opportunities.”
Four federal agencies the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Labor, the Economic Development Administration and the Small Business Administration set aside a portion of their funding this year for the POWER grants.
Since May, several announcements have taken place under the SOAR umbrella.
- Just last week, the state awarded two contracts for the final phases of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail in eastern Kentucky soon to be the longest trail of its kind in the Commonwealth.
- Lieutenant Governor Crit Luallen and Congressman Rogers announced in June a special 1 percent financing program to make buying a home more affordable for residents in the 54-county SOAR region.
- Gov. Beshear and Congressman Rogers announced in late May that EOS USA, a leading provider of customer care and accounts receivables management services, plans to open an operation in Somerset and hire 150 Kentuckians.
- Kentucky received more than $3.7 million in AmeriCorps funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) for several programs, including Teach for America-Kentucky in Hazard, Operation Unite in Prestonsburg and PartnerCorps STEM in Berea.
Earlier today, the co-chairs joined education and local officials in Manchester to announce the first phase of the SOAR STEM Initiative to create opportunities for teachers in eastern Kentucky through National Board Certification.
Gov. Beshear and Congressman Rogers also joined public health and university officials in McKee to announce a new dentist recruitment program aimed at promoting sustained oral health and well-being in eastern Kentucky.
During the board meeting, members voted to award the SOAR Communications contract to C2 Strategic Communications, of Louisville, to help promote eastern Kentucky through SOAR.
The Executive Board had a moment of silence in memory of those who lost their lives during the devastating flash flood in Johnson County last week. Gov. Beshear asked Lt. Gov. Luallen to survey the damage Wednesday; Congressman Rogers visited with flood victims, emergency responders and volunteers in the area on Friday.
"At every turn, I heard of folks risking their lives, volunteering hours on end and donating vital supplies for their neighbors," said Congressman Rogers as he shared details of his visit to Johnson County. "Its that same spirit of determination that gives us hope for eastern Kentucky through every challenge we face. Together, we will overcome."
"We need to be mindful that recovery will be an ongoing process," Gov. Beshear said. "But I have to say I was not surprised to read about the heroic efforts of many people. Thats what Kentuckians do: We look out for our friends, family and neighbors. And the resiliency of our people continues to amaze me. Tragedies like this remind all of us of our bottom-line goal, and that is to help our families survive whatever challenges are thrown at them, whether theyre weather-related or caused by economic storms."