SOAR: Shaping our Appalachian Region – 2013 Summit in Pikeville, KY

A flower set against the hills of Eastern Kentucky.

A flower set against the hills of Eastern Kentucky.

By Chris Egan

The SOAR Summit, held yesterday December 9, 2013, is an initiative by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and 5th District US Representative Hal Rogers that aims to lay the groundwork for bringing jobs and crucial infrastructure to the Appalachian region of Kentucky.

Beshear says that while coal has been the “foundation of the state’s economy,” the region’s ability to rely on the coal industry for jobs and revenue has been rapidly dwindling.  Ignoring the changes he says, “is blindfolding ourselves.”

Beshear says Eastern Kentucky “needs action now.”

Much of Rogers’ focus was on bringing high-speed broadband Internet access to the region.  This, he says, will bring jobs to the region without relying on businesses to make the region their headquarters.  Rogers says that with broadband, “all of a sudden the world is flat… workers are now in the world market…mountains are no longer barricades.”  He calls it the “interstate I-way.”  Jeff Whitehead, Executive Director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, reiterated, “Through technology we have an abundance of opportunity.” “Major Corporations don’t have to move here for our people to work for them.”

Rogers’ also spoke about the “cruel brain drain of Eastern Kentucky,” referring to the educated youth that leave the region in search of jobs.  He told how his father, his brother, and himself followed this same trend.   He says he left the region in search of a job but swore if he ever had the opportunity to reverse the trend that he would do whatever he could to do so.

Another speaker at the summit, State Representative Greg Stumbo, spoke about a goal of creating a plan to expand the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway to four lanes.  Beshear later commented on this saying that it could take 6-8 years to complete the project, but he hopes to have a plan put together by January 2014.

A father and son team from Minnesota spoke about how their state has put much of their mining tax revenue into a trust fund to be used as a “rainy day fund.”  The fund has been used for public works projects, a grant program to reinvest in local mines, investment in local tourism including golf courses and ski slopes, and manufacturing.  This resonated as one of the good new ideas to come from the summit.  Beshear commented on this later saying that the states coal severance tax is currently split 50/50 between the state’s general fund and the counties and that it is not realistic to change that formula right now.

Rogers suggested that in 6 months they would hold another public session to grade the progress.  Referring to the large turnout and the engaged attendants of the summit, he said that he is “pleased to see this kind of response.”

Beshear also had positive takeaways from the summit.   He referred to a saying that was used in church saying it was “time for the altar call,” meaning that it is time for people to “come down and make a commitment.” He says it is up to the people of Eastern Kentucky to solve their problems.  He promised he and Rogers would help but says it is ultimately up to the people.

Thanks to KET for providing great coverage of this event.

To learn more, please visit the links below.



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