KET Legislative Coverage

Preparing for Takeoff: SOAR Organizational Work Begins

by John Gregory | 04/02/14 4:49 PM

Ahead of organizational meetings scheduled to begin this month, Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced the leadership committee that will direct the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative. The effort launched in December when some 1,700 people gathered in Pikeville to discuss ways to improve the economic future of Eastern Kentucky.

The SOAR executive committee includes Beshear and Rogers as co-chairs, as well as:

  • Bruce Ayers, president emeritus of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland
  • Jim Booth, CEO of Booth Energy, and a member of the University of Pikeville Board of Trustees
  • Jean Hale, chairman, president, and CEO of Community Trust Bank in Pikeville, member of the University of Pikeville Board of Trustees, and a member of the Kentucky Economic Development Partnership Board
  • Rodney Hitch, economic development manager for East Kentucky Power in Winchester, and a former development official for Morehead and Rowan County
  • Jim Host, chairman of iHigh.com in Lexington, and a former Kentucky secretary of commerce
  • Tom Hunter, recently retired executive director of the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington, D.C.
  • Kim McCann, a partner/attorney with VanAntwerp, Monge, Jones, Edwards & McCann in Ashland, and a lobbyist representing business and industry before state agencies
  • Hayley McCoy, economic development advocate with Jackson Energy, and a board member of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development
  • Bob Mitchell, a member of the board of directors for the Center for Rural Development in Somerset, and former chief of staff for Congressman Rogers.

Serving as ex-officio members of the group are Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock, Magoffin County Judge-Executive Charles "Doc" Martin, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), and Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg).

Working Groups to Gather Public Input
From now through July, a collection of working groups will solicit public input through a series of listening sessions across Eastern Kentucky:

  • Agriculture/Community/Regional Foods, chaired by Daniel Wilson, Wolfe County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources. The group will explore community food development, agri-tourism, and entrepreneurial agriculture.
  • Broadband, chaired by Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO, the Center for Rural Development in Somerset, to explore providing high-speed broadband internet access throughout the region.
  • Business Recruitment group, chaired by Greg Jones, special project director, Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corp. in Somerset, will explore business attraction and retention.
  • Business Incubation group, chaired by Jared Arnett, president and CEO of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in Pikeville, will explore fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem and locating investment capital to support that.
  • Education and Retraining, chaired by Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program in Hazard. They will explore improving lifelong learning and adult retraining opportunities.
  • Health, chaired by Dr. Nikki Stone, Hazard, dental director of the University of Kentucky June Buchanan Medical Clinic in Hazard. They will explore enhancing regional access to health care and human services.
  • Infrastructure, chaired by Jack Sykes, chairman of the board of Summit Engineering in Pikeville. They will explore the region's infrastructure needs including transportation, water, sewage, housing, and energy.
  • Leadership Development and Youth Engagement, chaired by Jonathan Gay, executive director of Morehead State University Innovation and Commercialization Center in Morehead. They will explore how to engage the next generation of community and business leaders.
  • Regional Collaboration and Identity, chaired by Sandy Runyon, executive director of the Big Sandy Area Development District in Prestonsburg. Group members will explore coordinating regional marketing and branding activities, and how public and private groups can collaborate.
  • Tourism, including Natural Resources, Arts, and Heritage, chaired by Phil Osborne, president of Osborne and Associates in Lexington. The group will explore developing tourism opportunities around regional arts, culture, heritage, and scenic beauty.

In August, these working groups are scheduled to finalize draft reports summarizing their information gathering activities and present up to five priorities that the SOAR initiative should pursue in the next three years.

A second SOAR summit is scheduled for this November in Pikeville.

Watch KET’s coverage of the December 2013 SOAR Summit.