Governor Steve Beshear's Communications Office
SOAR Initiative Targets Action Plans for Region

Press Release Date:  Monday, November 24, 2014  
Revision Date:  Wednesday, November 26, 2014 
Contact Information:  Kerri Richardson
Terry Sebastian

New executive director announces 2015 program of work

MANCHESTER, Ky. – As the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative approaches its second year, executive board members welcomed the new SOAR executive director and considered ways for the initiative to move from information-gathering efforts into action plans.

Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers, the initiative’s co-chairs, called on the board to return to their communities with a renewed energy to tackle the more difficult work of implementing the recommendations gathered from a year’s worth of regional conversations.

“We have always said that the SOAR initiative must be driven by the residents of eastern Kentucky. For the past year, the people of this region have met and talked about their hopes for their communities and families, and now we have to figure out a way to make those goals happen,” said Gov. Beshear. “We have an excellent road map now, and we must keep everyone engaged as we choose the best strategies to meet those goals.”

“It’s time to put action behind the innovative SOAR ideas that can spur job creation and help enhance our region,” said Congressman Rogers. “With Jared Arnett leading the way as SOAR’s new Executive Director, I’m confident that this initiative is poised to be molded into a successful organization that will have long-term benefits for our future.”

In his first SOAR meeting as the Founding Executive Director, Jared Arnett presented the board with recommendations for next year’s program of work, which includes strategies for enhancing education access, health, job training and tourism in the region.

The daylong meeting included a reception for city and county elected officials, as well as state legislative members of the Coal Caucus, to encourage them to continue to participate and support SOAR.

“Local support is critical to keep SOAR as a priority not just in this board meeting, but also in every city council meeting and every fiscal court meeting across this region,” said Arnett.

Gov. Beshear and Rep. Rogers also recognized Chuck Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), which has served as the interim administrative body for SOAR over the last year. The co-chairs gave Fluharty a formal commendation to thank him for his work in organizing and supporting SOAR over the past year. RUPRI will continue to support SOAR in a consulting role.

Working groups transition to action groups
For the past year, ten different working groups have held dozens of meetings across the southern and eastern Kentucky region to gather ideas about a range of topics including education, job training, tourism, infrastructure and private investment. Arnett announced that these working groups will transition into action groups, with the chairs forming an advisory team which will report directly to Arnett.

Board actions promote tourism, attract jobs, enhance grassroots support
The executive board took steps to promote specific tourism efforts as well as encourage regional support through use of a new license plate.

The board passed a motion to send a letter of support to appropriate parties encouraging partnerships to enhance whitewater rafting tourism opportunities at the Breaks Interstate Park in Pike County.

In planning for the upcoming legislative session, the board voted to support a bill to create the Kentucky Appalachian Regional Development Fund, which would be operated by the Kentucky Department for Local Government. SOAR will work to build an endowment to support development projects in Eastern Kentucky.

The board also passed a motion to conduct a campaign for a SOAR license plate to further unify the regional grassroots effort, and provide a source of operating capital for the initiative.

Local businesses have an opportunity to become SOAR corporate partners, which indicates that the businesses support the goals of SOAR. Jim Host, who serves on the initiative’s development board, announced the first four official corporate partnerships. Forcht Bank and Booth Energy were named SOAR Founding Partners while Walters Automotive of Pikeville and Community Trust Bank, Inc. were named SOAR East Kentucky Sponsors. Businesses interested in becoming SOAR partners should contact Arnett at the SOAR office.

Next SOAR summit
Plans are underway for the second SOAR summit, which is tentatively scheduled for President’s Day, February 16, 2015 in Pikeville. The first summit last year attracted about 1,700 interested citizens for a daylong discussion of the possibilities for the region and for the SOAR initiative. Further plans for the summit will be announced as they become available.

About the SOAR initiative
The SOAR initiative was launched by Gov. Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers late last year, after a stunning downturn in the coal market exacerbated historic challenges in Eastern Kentucky related to unemployment and poverty. More than 1,700 Kentuckians attended a one-day SOAR summit in Pikeville in December. SOAR is intended to help the region develop and put into action new locally-oriented strategies to attack those persistent challenges.