Press Releases

SOAR Drives Innovation at 3rd Summit

More than 130 innovators showcased at the event

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (June 6, 2016) – The Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) grassroots, non-profit organization highlighted more than 130 innovative projects in southern and eastern Kentucky today during the 2016 SOAR Innovation Summit. SOAR co-chairs, Governor Matt Bevin and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers kicked off the third summit with more than 1,000 people in attendance.

“They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Well, we are here to invent,” said Congressman Rogers. “Less than 4,000 coal miners are now employed in eastern Kentucky, so the need for innovation has never been greater. SOAR gives us a chance at this crossroads in time to redouble our efforts and inspire new opportunities for job creation and a better way of life.”

“The American Dream is alive and well, and the opportunity for it to be realized is great in small communities here in eastern Kentucky,” said Gov. Bevin. “We have the opportunity to infuse our young people with values that make America great, a respect for God and a respect for our country. A lot of good work is happening in this community. Let us continue to pour into that.

“In past summits, the idea was bantered about to create some kind of permanent fund, the proceeds of which would fund projects in coal country. It gives me great pleasure to announce that in this last budget we put $15 million in an endowment that will be used coming from coal severance money, and other money we have,” continued Gov. Bevin.

Since becoming co-chair of SOAR in January, Gov. Bevin has led the charge for state projects that will spur innovation in Kentucky’s Appalachian region through the Kentucky Appalachian Regional Development (KARD) fund. Last month, the SOAR Executive Committee approved $1.5 million for eleven projects in the region.

The goal of the summit is to inspire new innovative opportunities throughout southern and eastern Kentucky to help diversify the economy, connect leaders and promote local talent that can be used to reimagine the future of the region.

Ankur Gopal, CEO of Interapt, LLC in Louisville announced the creation of 50 new jobs for Eastern Kentuckians who are interested in learning how to code. They will be trained at the Big Sandy Community and Technical College as part of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Progam's TechHire initiative. Gopal said newly trained employees will work for Interapt remotely in eastern Kentucky.

"It's exciting to see the energy in this arena from local people who are ready and willing to invest their time and efforts to improve our hometowns," said Jared Arnett, Executive Director of SOAR. "We highlighted some innovators that are already helping change the region in an effort to inspire more innovation and replicate the programs that can be implemented in neighboring counties. Together, we are shaping a better future."

The morning session included keynotes from Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who focused on how connectivity drives innovation; Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who spoke about innovations in rural healthcare; and Earl Gohl, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), who has invested in innovation through a number of projects in the region, including SOAR.

Other keynote speakers included Dr. Roberto Gallardo from the Mississippi State University Extension's Intelligent Community Institute; Bob Schena, President and CEO of Rajant; Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers; Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo; State Rep. Leslie Combs; and Sandy Dunahoo, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Local Government.

During afternoon breakout sessions, attendees participated in three discussions entitled “Successes and Challenges in Rural Health,” “TechHire and the Digital Economy,” and “AML Economic and Community Development Pilot Program.” Local government officials, community leaders and others had the opportunity to learn more about a new $30 million Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) pilot project that infuses funding back into former coalfields to be reused for economic development. Congressman Rogers helped secure federal funding for the pilot this year and Governor Bevin released a granting strategy to invest the funding back into the state’s hard-hit coal communities.

SOAR is a network of Kentucky's Appalachian region, uniting 54 counties to expand job creation, enhance regional innovation, and improve the quality of life. Learn more about SOAR at or join the conversation on social media via Facebook and Twitter.