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Shaping Appalachia, Shaping a Career

Jared and Bethany Arnett
Jared and Bethany Arnett

By Kathie Stamps

At age 27, Jared Arnett became president and CEO of the Pikeville-based Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Two-and-a-half years later in fall 2013, he attended a meeting in Hazard that would change his career. Arnett was in the back of the room that day as Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced a new program, a summit, to open dialog about innovation and collaboration in Eastern Kentucky.

Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) held its first summit in December 2013 with 1,600 attending. Arnett served on a job creation panel, then was appointed to chair the group writing recommendations around business incubation and entrepreneurship. From there, he presented quarterly updates to the governor and the executive board. In November 2014, he was offered and took the job running SOAR.

“We unequivocally believe there’s a future in Appalachia Kentucky, and SOAR is the backbone organization of partnerships working to create that future,” Arnett said.

By November 2016 the executive board, which by then included Gov. Matt Bevin, approved SOAR’s “Regional Blueprint for a 21st Century Appalachia.”

SOAR has built a network of partners to implement the blueprint across 54 counties in Eastern Kentucky based on three primary areas: to drive action aligned with the regional blueprint; to promote and inspire Appalachia; and to grow the team in number and capacity.

As executive director of SOAR, Arnett watches all year long as the organization focuses on expanding broadband internet infrastructure throughout Appalachia, developing a competitive regional workforce, increasing industrial employment, creating a local foods movement and healthier communities, and establishing Kentucky’s Appalachian region as a tourism destination.

Internet access and its high-impact economic uses such as telemedicine, e-commerce, remote work opportunities, online education and training are central to SOAR’s vision for a 21st-century Appalachia with healthier lifestyles and healthier communities.

Born in Prestonsburg and raised in Salyersville, Arnett lives now in Harold in Floyd County. He earned a degree in paralegal studies at Morehead State University in 2006 and an MBA three years later. He taught piano and guitar lessons through college and opened a guitar store in Pikeville called Mountain Music Exchange five years ago.

“Our guitar store has shipped a product to all 50 states from the heart of Appalachia,” he said. “We see tremendous opportunity to capture more national market share from right here with low cost of living, a tremendous available workforce and tremendous quality of life.”

Young professionals are an integral part of shaping and sharing the Appalachian region and identifying challenges as opportunities. “Our generation tends to accept, embrace, and many times drive change,” Arnett said. “We often approach problems outside of perceived limitations and barriers. We also love to solve problems and make a difference.”