PIKEVILLE, Ky. – Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) held its fourth-annual summit at the East Kentucky Expo Center on Friday, August 4. More than 1,200 people from across Appalachia Kentucky attended the day-long event, which featured showcases from more than 130 organizations.
“This convening of believers validates that there’s a future in Appalachia,” said Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR. “This year’s summit was not about what we plan to do, but instead about what we are doing. SOAR has its hands in many different projects, but the main thing we are doing is building a Connected Appalachia. We are empowering those who have dreams to turn them into a reality; we are blurring county lines and working in a unified effort to bring jobs and other development to our region; and we are demonstrating the faith and grit that will get us to the ultimate destination of Appalachia Kentucky being full of opportunities for all who seek it.”
Arnett announced the upcoming launch of a Strategic Partnership Program, which will allow organizations to sign on as a formal supporter of SOAR and commit to help implement the organization’s Regional Blueprint throughout their respective organizations and the communities they serve.
“We’re asking our strategic partners to take ownership of the Regional Blueprint,” added Arnett. “Their formalized partnership will allow us to expand our reach, build working groups and empower our partners with a plan that will foster job creation and improve the quality of life and quality of place for everyone in Appalachia Kentucky.”
Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers and Governor Matt Bevin, who serve as co-chairs of SOAR, spoke of the progress taking place in Appalachia Kentucky because of SOAR.
“We are beginning to see the fruits of our collaborative efforts,” said Congressman Rogers. “The more we can prove to ourselves that we can work together, good things will happen and this organization will continue to SOAR.”
Congressman Rogers, who serves as Chairman of House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, announced a $200,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant to the Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation (SKED) to help Eastern Kentucky companies become ISO certified, which is often required for government contracts. In conjunction. SKED will host a Defense Contracting Symposium on Thursday, October 19 at the Corbin Center in Whitley County to provide information on how to prepare for government contract work.
“You are resilient,” Congressman Rogers told those in attendance at the SOAR Summit. “You are making it happen. We are retooling our resources and doubling down our efforts to bring jobs and bring about change.”
Governor Matt Bevin started his remarks with a quote from philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
“There’s enthusiasm. Pride and a sense of dignity here,” said Governor Bevin. “It’s one of the things I appreciate about Eastern Kentucky. It’s an area where people want to work, where there’s pride, people have a sense of home and people have a sense of community.”
University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari was the keynote speaker at the Summit. He spoke of the traits of being a servant leader.
“In Eastern Kentucky, you are all about each other,” said Calipari. “You have an unbelievable pride about this. It’s about servant leadership and being a good teammate. When you are climbing the ladder, you are bringing people along with you. You are paying it forward.”
Calipari ended his remarks with a call to action to those in attendance: “Let’s bring it. Let’s go. Let’s make changes!”
Other featured speakers at the summit included: Max Espinoza, senior program officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Phillip Brown, executive director of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority (KCNA); Joan Ferrini-Mundy, chief operating officer of the National Science Foundation; and John Stephenson, senior manager for public policy at Amazon Web Services.
The summit also featured breakout sessions on Broadband and the Digital Economy and Aerospace and Manufacturing Opportunities in Appalachia. This year’s Summit also included a variety of spark presentations highlighting some of the successful programs/initiatives in Appalachia Kentucky. Spark presenters were: Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (TechHire Eastern Kentucky); Tim Robinson, president of Addiction Recovery Care (Peer Support Academy); Lonnie Riley, founder of Meridzo Ministries (Lynch Revitalization Project); Matthew Satterwhite, president and chief operating officer of Kentucky Power (Manufacturing/Aerospace); and Jonathan Webb, founder of AppHarvest (Eastern Kentucky Commercial Greenhouse).
For more information on SOAR, visit soar-ky.org or call (606) 766-1160.