Beshear, Rogers speak on SOAR Summit report

Anthony Cloud Staff Writer

January 17, 2014

The first report from last month’s Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit was announced by Gov. Steve Beshear and Fifth District U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers at Pine Mountain State Park and Resort on Friday.

In an effort to focus on the future success of southern and eastern Kentucky, Beshear and Rogers organized the SOAR Summit to gather ideas and recommendations about how to move Kentucky’s Appalachian region forward. The report provided a compendium of all the comments and suggestions submitted to the initiative and outlined common themes for focused efforts in the future.

“Thanks to our shared effort, vision and cooperation, we are already seeing meaningful progress toward a new future for Appalachia as well as many of our rural counties,” said Beshear. “The work of the SOAR initiative has not only captured the attention of our citizens but has also attracted new partners outside our borders to share our work of revitalizing and re imagining this key region.”

In all, more than 1,000 comments were included in the SOAR report as well as more than 600 written ideas and organizational commitments to support the initiative. The SOAR Summit held in Pikeville in December welcomed hundreds of attendees from across southern and eastern Kentucky with varied occupational backgrounds.

“This is what the SOAR initiative is all about — working together, dreaming big and creating new opportunities,” said Rogers. “Only five weeks after the SOAR Summit, we’re receiving real commitments, real programs and real dollars dedicated to eastern Kentucky, and the best is yet to come.”

Both Beshear and Rogers plan to review the report carefully before making further announcements about next steps for the SOAR initiative.

The leaders also pointed to a series of recent partnerships and announcements as indications of SOAR’s momentum.

Those announcements include:

  • The recent federal designation of a Promise Zone for an eight-county region in eastern Kentucky to accelerate partnerships and access to federal programs, including job creation efforts;
  • An announcement of a $2.6 million loan pool that will allow entrepreneurs and start-up companies in the region to qualify for small business loans through the U.S. Department of Treasury;
  • A new $30 million district Race to the Top award for improving education in 18 rural school districts in eastern Kentucky;
  • Plans to expand and four-lane the Mountain Parkway, which will essentially create the equivalent of a four-lane interstate through the region.

Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-248-1010, ext. 1125, acloud@civitasmedia.com