FRANKFORT, Ky. – Celebrating the organization’s 5th anniversary, U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers and Governor Matt Bevin welcomed more than 1,100 attendees to the annual summit at the East Kentucky Exposition Center in Pikeville, applauding federal, state and local leaders for overcoming early challenges to drive successful efforts inspired by Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR).
“Five years ago, the future of Kentucky’s Appalachian region seemed daunting. However, with approximately 12,000 coal miners left without jobs in the wake of the war on coal, more than 1,200 people from across Eastern Kentucky rallied together under the united mission of SOAR to reimagine our future, improve quality of life and diversify our struggling economy,” said Rogers. “Progress may seem slow at times, but we have made great strides against the heavy burden of the war on coal and we won’t stop pulling together federal, state and local resources to overcome our challenges and recruit new innovative opportunities to our region. The horizon is brighter than ever before with hundreds of new jobs opening soon, a new federal prison approved for construction and broadband access on the way to every county. Our best days are ahead!”
Congressman Rogers and Governor Bevin inspired local leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs to continue working together toward a better future for Eastern Kentucky.
“This year’s SOAR summit showcases the unlimited potential that exists in Eastern Kentucky,” said Gov. Bevin. “Kentucky’s Appalachian region is home to entrepreneurs, business leaders, innovators, and change-makers that are committed to making a difference in their local communities, and they are putting their ideas into action. We are committed to coming alongside the local communities to identify resources and new opportunities to encourage further economic growth and development. The determination and drive in this region of our Commonwealth ensures that the future of Appalachia will be bright.”
Keynote speakers included USDA Rural Development Assistant to the Secretary Anne Hazlett; Tim Thomas, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC); Chris Thomlinson, owner of SilverLiner in Pikeville; Bob Schena, CEO of Rajant Corporation in Morehead; and Major General (Retired) Vinny Boles, who led logistics for the U.S. Army following the tragic events on September 11, 2001.
Hazlett and Thomas joined Rogers and Bevin to make several funding announcements for the region, including:
- A $100,000 grant from the ARC for SOAR operations
- A $1.2 million grant from Kentucky ARC for development of a 30-acre industrial site in Perry County
- $625,390 in grant funding from USDA Rural Development for several projects in the SOAR region, including a new national pilot program for transitional housing related to the opioid epidemic in Rockcastle County
- $30,000 private investment from Toyota Tsusho to launch an Advanced Manufacturing Makerspace at the Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College’s Middlesboro Campus
- $10.5 million for two new Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Pilot Projects in Letcher County and Pike County
For more information about the ongoing work related to SOAR, visit soar-ky.org.
The SOAR initiative was launched in 2013, after a stunning downturn in the coal market exacerbated historic challenges in Eastern Kentucky related to unemployment and poverty. SOAR is intended to help the region develop and put into action new locally-oriented strategies to attack those persistent challenges.