In an effort to focus on the future success of southern and eastern Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers today announced that they will host a summit with hundreds of citizens from across the region to share new ideas and recommendations about how to move Kentucky's Appalachian region forward.
The summit, titled "S.O.A.R.: Shaping Our Appalachian Region", will be held on Monday, Dec. 9 at the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center in Pikeville.
"Eastern Kentucky is a brilliant, storied region that enriches the fabric of our Commonwealth," said Gov. Beshear. "Yet for several decades, the region has seen a decline in growth and development, hampered by a lack of infrastructure and other resources that communities need to grow and thrive. We know that government alone cannot solve these issues, and that is why Congressman Rogers and I are launching this summit -- we believe that to make real progress in Eastern Kentucky, we need the input, collaboration and involvement from the people who live and work hard there every day."
"We are in uncharted waters in southern and eastern Kentucky, where the future of coal faces new regulatory challenges and economic uncertainty is daunting for our small communities," said Congressman Rogers. "But time and again, the people of our region have proven to be resilient. Over the years, we've expanded infrastructure and vital resources to the most rural parts of the Commonwealth, we've united in the fight against the prescription drug abuse epidemic, and we've partnered across county lines to clean up our hillsides and streams. I am confident that together, we will rise above these new challenges we face. We will overcome!"
The nation's recent recession and economic restructuring have hit the Appalachian region especially hard. While overall rural manufacturing and job growth have improved, the region's number-one industry continues to decline. In less than two years, more than 6,000 coal miners have been laid off or furloughed in Eastern Kentucky alone, resulting in unbearable economic hardships in many communities.
"There is an urgent need for change and a new way of thinking about the issues in Appalachia," said Gov. Beshear. "We must work together to attack our regional obstacles from many angles -- by emphasizing public, private and philanthropic partnerships to address and implement improvements in education, health, work-readiness, infrastructure and more. Most critical, these solutions must be driven and championed by the individuals who call Appalachia home, because it is their enthusiasm and support that will carry these visions to reality."
"Eastern Kentucky is my home; the people here are family," said Senate President Robert Stivers. "Re-energizing the economy in Eastern Kentucky is going to require thinking "outside the box.' I believe this is a tremendous step in that direction."
"Those of us fortunate enough to call Eastern Kentucky home are deeply committed to seeing it thrive in the future, which is why I believe this summit will prove to be a welcome guide for the direction our region needs to take," said House Speaker Greg Stumbo. "I want to thank Governor Beshear and Congressman Rogers for their support, and call on others throughout the state to join with us in this effort. I cannot think of a more pressing issue affecting the Commonwealth."
The Governor and Congressman have secured the assistance of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), a national policy institute dedicated to fostering public dialogue and solutions to the challenges facing rural regions and communities. RUPRI has coordinated similar regional efforts across the nation and globe, and will help facilitate discussions at the SOAR summit. RUPRI facilitators support the summit's goal of gathering the many disparate voices of Appalachia and merging their ideas into a cohesive strategy for the region's success.
"Economic growth is the overriding global imperative of all nations, and the key to success is to unlock the unique potential of regions, through collaboration, asset-based development, innovation, and ultimately wealth creation. RUPRI is honored to be working to advance that agenda in this region," said RUPRI President and CEO Chuck Fluharty.
The SOAR Summit will host hundreds of attendees from across southern and eastern Kentucky with varied occupational backgrounds and interests-- including individuals representing education, business, nonprofits, arts, finance, tourism, local government and more. The summit is open to any Kentuckian with an interest in the strength and future of Kentucky's Appalachian region. Interested individuals are invited to attend the SOAR Summit by registering athttps://kydlgweb.ky.gov/
A SOAR planning committee of approximately 40 members will meet in advance of the summit to suggest discussion topics and possible goals.
"The leadership and participation of southern and eastern Kentucky families and citizens is critical, not only to supporting the summit, but also to ensure the summit's long-term impact in the region," said Congressman Rogers. "The summit is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long-term initiative to bring new opportunities and renewed prosperity to the people of this region, and the Governor and I pledge to be part of the work."
Other national and regional agencies supporting the SOAR effort include the USDA Rural Development and the Appalachian Regional Commission.