Between 2001 and 2021, Kentucky-based coal mining declined faster than anywhere else in the US.
Our #1 source of economic prosperity — mining and coal production — fell by more than 78%. As a result, Kentucky residents have faced tough choices. Many were forced to leave their homes in search of economic opportunity.
For decades, Kentucky leaders, the small business community, and residents have been working on a number of solutions.
SOAR is excited to announce that Kentucky and a coalition of partners (including SOAR) are a phase-one finalist for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), the program aims to help regions like ours recover from the pandemic and overcome decades of economic distress.
The project gaining momentum with the EDA is the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Prosperity through AgriTech Hub — or KY PATH.
Agritech represents a promising growth opportunity for our regional economy. Significant investment is already occurring to help transform Eastern Kentucky into a global agritech hub.
If the EDA chooses to fund KY PATH, it will be transformative for Eastern Kentucky. The investment would lead to new industry and job growth, opportunities to train and retain local talent, and the development of critical, innovative technology in our backyard.
KY PATH has the potential to create a positive economic ripple effect across our region. Our local leaders need to take note of KY PATH, understand what it can accomplish, and start preparing communities for the opportunities it will offer us.
This blog post will introduce the initiative and outline calls to action for Eastern Kentuckians.
What is agritech?
Agriculture technology (agritech) is a fast-growing industry that’s developing, manufacturing, and implementing solutions to increase our food production capacity and capabilities.
Food security, equity, and justice are growing concerns in the US and worldwide. Climate change and related catastrophes are threatening our food production systems, including unprecedented floods, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and others.
Plus, our global population is growing — much faster than our existing food production systems are. Current projections indicate that we’ll need another earth to feed everyone by 2050.
Agritech provides solutions via technologies that increase food production, improve systems, reduce waste, and create a healthy food future for all.
Economic growth opportunities through agritech
Eastern Kentucky already has a background in agriculture, food and beverage, logistics, and advanced manufacturing — and each are key in agritech.
With hundreds of millions of dollars already invested in bringing this industry to our region, we have an opportunity to transform agritech into Eastern Kentucky’s premier economic driver.
As the agritech industry takes off, we’re aiming to become the heartbeat of agritech in America — and even the world.
This transformation presents a significant opportunity to undo the effects of losing coal. Together, we can welcome in a booming, vital industry — one that will create stable, high-paying jobs, stabilize our region, and help our residents thrive.
Everyone has a role to play in making EKY the leading agritech market in the US. State and county governments, mayors, city councils, educators, small businesses, utilities, and families must participate for this to succeed. You can start by learning about KY PATH, what it’ll entail, and how you can get involved.
What is KY PATH?
KY PATH is an opportunity for Eastern Kentucky to reclaim our economic future by increasing employment rates, reversing population loss, and raising the region’s median income.
A diversified economy is a healthy economy. As KY PATH transforms our region into an agritech hub, it’ll also prepare our residents for other opportunities presented by the 21st-century remote work economy.
KY PATH is made up of 3 initiatives and 5 total projects.
KY PATH Projects #1 and #2: AgriTech Innovation Hub
The first cluster of projects seeks to position Eastern Kentucky as a national “innovation hub” of agritech, with the desired outcome of increasing the region’s gross domestic product (GDP).
- Project #1: Construct an agritech research and development center (ARD center) in Eastern Kentucky.
- Project #2: Establish a research and development program out of the ARD center to study improvements to food production, storage, waste management, and distribution.
AgriTech Innovation Hub coalition partners include: The Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Kentucky Agritech Regional Competitiveness Officer, the Dutch ambassador and Ministry of Agriculture, the US-Dutch Consortium, Nature and Food Quality, MRC Regional Business Park, AppHarvest, the Kentucky Horticulture Council, and academia.
KY PATH Projects #3 and #4: Industry & Job Growth
The second cluster of projects will stimulate entrepreneurial activity in Eastern Kentucky and empower local startups to contribute to the fast-growing agritech sector.
- Project #3: Launch the Food Chain Global Startup Challenge to establish a global competition to develop agritech technologies, processes, and solutions, fund leading entrepreneurs, and offer relocation assistance to Kentucky.
- Project #4: Grow the industry with investments made through a Food Chain Venture Fund, including projects pitched during the Food Chain Global Startup Challenge.
Coalition partners for projects 3 and 4 include: UK Innovate, Access Ventures, Launch Blue, Awesome, Inc.,UK College of Agriculture, Southeast Kentucky Economic Development (SKED), and Invest 606.
KY PATH Project #5: Talent Development & Retention
As agritech settles in to take root in Eastern Kentucky, it’ll be critical that we help our local talent earn the skills and certifications necessary to win top-paying jobs.
SOAR will lead Project #5: Live, Work, Grow. Our objectives include investing in digital skills training for Eastern Kentuckians, from the basics through advanced robotics and manufacturing capabilities.
Not only will we aim to equip our residents with what they need to secure agritech jobs — we want them to tap into any and all high-paying work opportunities available.
Our coalition partners include: The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, Cultural Cornerstones, Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Farmers markets, Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, eKAMI, EKCEP, Leadership Kentucky, UK Extension, UPIKE, and Martin County Public Library.
Stay tuned to the SOAR blog for in-depth blog posts on the initiatives that will bring “Live, Work, Grow” to life.
How will KY PATH help coal communities?
KY PATH places equity at the center of its programs, which is why it’ll focus on our region’s coal communities that need a hand-up.
The initiatives will primarily benefit economically-distressed Persistent Poverty Counties (PPCs) — the heart of Eastern Kentucky’s coal communities that need a fresh economic start.
KY PATH aims to establish an estimated $10 billion agritech sector within our coal communities. WIth $160 million in public and private investments already earmarked for the project, KY PATH will build off this solid foundation.
The Kentucky Center for Statistics expects the agritech industry to bring nearly $200 million in new revenue to the Eastern Kentucky economy between 2022 and 2027. Ideally, the majority of that will support strong economic outcomes for our residents living in coal communities.
What challenges does KY PATH aim to address?
KY PATH seeks to bolster the entire Eastern Kentucky economy by welcoming a new, prosperous industry and preparing residents for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
When high-paying jobs are available locally and residents can access remote jobs, we can address such persistent issues as population loss and low workforce participation.
With KY PATH, program leaders hope to achieve the following goals:
- Break the cycle of population loss
- Increase our workforce participation rate
- Decrease residents’ dependency on social services and transfer payments
- Increase households earning wages above the poverty line
- Grow our region’s tax base
- Welcome new residents
- Record stronger health outcomes
How local leaders can take action
As KY PATH coalition leaders await the final word from the EDA, local leaders can begin to take action right away.
We need mayors, council members, and other elected officials to initiate community readiness projects throughout Eastern Kentucky.
These efforts should seek to elevate the overall quality of life in Eastern Kentucky. The more desirable it is to live, work, and play in Eastern Kentucky, the easier it will be to encourage agritech businesses and workers to develop and take root here.
Relevant projects could include investing in infrastructure and buildings, such as constructing last-mile broadband and revitalizing downtowns.
You can also take steps to support small business owners and encourage youth entrepreneurship.
Last but not least, supporting resident career training and digital equity programs will be foundational to the success of KY PATH.
Conclusion: Learn more about Kentucky’s PATH
Let’s make the most of this game-changing opportunity.
Subscribe to the SOAR blog to stay in the know about next steps for Eastern Kentucky community leaders, small business owners, startups, educators, and residents.
We’ll be going into greater detail about each project co-led by SOAR and provide action steps for stakeholders.