The 2022 SOAR Summit, presented by Appalachian Wireless and the Appalachian Regional Commission, looked “Into the future.”
Where do we want to be in 10 years? And the roles that communities, businesses, groups, and individuals play in getting us there.
It was a jam-packed two-day event at the Appalachian Wireless Arena. We hosted more than 100 exhibitors. More than 1,400 attendees came from 15 states and 60 Kentucky counties.
Aside from plenary sessions and networking opportunities, we hosted in-depth Focus Sessions on topics to empower people and communities to dream bigger and to reach higher. Check out our YouTube playlist from the Summit with more than 30 videos.
Why was SOAR created?
On day 1 of the SOAR Summit, Congressman Hal Rogers reminded attendees of the devastating economic collapse of the coal industry nearly a decade ago. That spearheaded the very first SOAR convening.
“We decided to call a Summit, we held it here in Pikeville. It happed in January, at any rate, there was a blizzard, and yet people came. And they poured their hearts out, they poured their minds out. And they created this organization that came to be called Shaping Our Appalachian Region,” said Congressman Rogers.
Colby Hall, Executive Director of SOAR, put into context where Eastern Kentucky currently stands compared to the rest of the nation.
“Eastern Kentucky holds 13% of all Appalachian Regional Commission counties and 50% of our counties are distressed,” said Hall, “Meaning that we are at the bottom 10% for unemployment, the bottom 10% per capita market income and poverty rate. and bottom 10% the poverty rate for our region.”
Hall pinpointed the challenges facing the region. One of the issues is population growth.
Thirty-six of Kentucky’s 54 Appalachian counties are distressed.
This means they are in the bottom 10% nationally in the three-year average unemployment rate and per-capita market income. Of the 36 distressed Appalachian counties in Kentucky that are distressed, which lie within Eastern Kentucky, we have lost about 10% of our overall population.
A second issue is the labor force. Statistics show that only 33% of our county’s current population is currently working or looking for work.
A third issue is connectivity to broadband internet. Only 11% of our counties have access to broadband internet at average speed.
Lastly, from a health standard view, the average Eastern Kentuckian lives six years less than your average American due to hypertension, smoking, diabetes, and obesity.
This brings up the summit’s most important question …
What goals do we need to Focus on now?
We believe that these are the next steps to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow. These steps can also slow down — or even eliminate — the outmigration of people from Eastern Kentucky.
- Increase labor force.
- Grow our population base.
- Connectivity. We have to be primed and ready and close the digital divide
- Increase households with computing devices.
- Help lessen obesity, adult smoking, and diabetes.
How will we reach those goals?
“We can do so much more together than we can do individually,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin on day 2 of the SOAR Summit.
This happens when we work together, create a shared vision, and hold ourselves accountable for the bright future we all envision and are working towards.
“It will take cooperation across county lines to reach our goals,” said Congressman Hal Rogers.
Ben Ledo, Vice President of MakeMyMove, spoke about the Economic Power of the Remote Worker. He also shared the possibilities of remote workers making the move to Eastern Kentucky. An opportunity and option that was once never thought about before.
“These remote workers are extremely valuable. When they come into your community they become an incremental taxpayer, they become an incremental consumer inside that local economy there and they spend more dollars there,” said Ledo, “They bring not only themselves and their jobs, they bring a job with them. But they bring their talents, their dreams, and their aspirations.”
This led SOAR to create EKY Remote, a program to attract remote workers from across the country to relocate — and bring their jobs — to Eastern Kentucky. We have received funding from the ARC to build greater capacity around this recruitment effort.
Mark Rembert, from the Center on Rural Innovation, also shared how remote workers are looking at places like Eastern Kentucky to relocate. He also shared why remote work is a potential game-changer in rural communities.
“If we look at eastern Kentucky about one-third of people today work in jobs with high remote work potential,” said Rembert, “Which is just in line with the rest of rural America. Although a little bit behind the rest of America.”
It is no surprise that more remote opportunities will become available with better broadband across Eastern Kentucky.
How you can be a part of our 10-year vision?
It starts with inspiring young people like 23-year-old Dakota Hoskins. He won the 2022 Startup Appalachia Pitch Competition with his business, Safari Solutions.
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough,” Hoskins said. “And with the help of SOAR, you can truly accomplish any product or goal if you set your mind to it.”
There’s a seat — and a place — for everyone to contribute to our movement.
- Become a Mentor.
- Become a Partner.
- Download our e-books and guides for
- Youth Entrepreneurship
- Remote Work
- Adventure Tourism
- Healthcare Careers
- Broadband Planning and Grants
Don’t miss a SOAR event! Register now for our first-ever EKY Gala on January 26 in Prestonsburg.