Governor Steve Beshear's Communications Office
Gov. Beshear, Rep. Rogers Announce Organizational Structure, Action Plan for Eastern Kentucky’s SOAR Initiative
HAZARD, Ky. – A diverse group of eastern Kentucky citizens will form the executive leadership structure of the Shaping our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative, Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers announced today.
The 15-member executive committee, co-chaired by Gov. Beshear and Rep. Rogers, held its first meeting today in Hazard. The group developed a nine-month action plan to guide them as the initiative seeks continued conversations and deeper outreach throughout Kentucky’s Appalachian counties, which will culminate in a second regional summit in late fall 2014.
The executive committee will oversee design, execution, and funding of SOAR activities and will conduct the search for a permanent executive director.
“The Congressman and I spent several weeks reviewing the SOAR report from that incredibly productive SOAR summit in December, and then we turned to look for the people to carry out this work – community leaders with the proven tenacity, organizational skills and commitment to devote time and resources to these tasks,” said Gov. Beshear. “We are excited about the ambitious action plan to encourage further and even more intensive conversation on critical topics. We are asking a great deal of these leaders, and in turn, we are also asking the citizens of eastern Kentucky to stay engaged and energized, because our collective work is still in its early stages.”
“With the loss of nearly 2,300 more coal mining jobs in eastern Kentucky last year, the urgency for action has never been greater,” said Congressman Rogers. “We vowed to plan our work and work our plan, and the Executive Committee members are taking on the monumental task of leading the way through uncharted waters. The SOAR Summit generated tremendous content, and we need folks from every corner of the state to remain committed to the cause.”
The committee’s nine-month action plan calls for large-scale outreach to eastern Kentucky businesses, local governments, organizations, and citizens this summer through ‘listening sessions’ to be held throughout the region. These sessions will produce detailed strategies for moving the region forward that will become part of a SOAR program of work to be presented at a regional summit in November.
Chuck Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, will serve as interim executive director of the SOAR initiative until a permanent executive director is named. Fluharty provided assistance to the SOAR Summit planning committee in designing the December 2013 event and has continued to work with Gov. Beshear and Rep. Rogers in planning follow-up strategies.
The executive committee will provide interim governance for the initiative until a permanent structure is established. Donovan Blackburn, Pikeville’s city manager, will serve as managing director. A SOAR office has also been established in Pikeville.
The executive committee includes:
- Bruce Ayers, Cumberland, president emeritus, Southeast Community and Technical College
- Jim Booth, Inez, CEO of Booth Energy
- Jean Hale, Pikeville; chair, president and CEO of Community Trust Bank
- Rodney Hitch, Winchester, economic development manager for East Kentucky Power
- Jim Host, Lexington
- Tom Hunter, Washington, D.C., retired executive director, Appalachian Regional Commission
- Kim McCann, Ashland, partner/attorney with VanAntwerp, Monge, Jones, Edwards & McCann
- Hayley McCoy, Jackson, economic development advocate with Jackson Energy
- Bob Mitchell, Corbin, board of directors for The Center for Rural Development and retired chief of staff for Rep. Hal Rogers
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Senate President Robert Stivers, Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock, and Magoffin County Judge-Executive Charles “Doc” Hardin will serve as ex officio members representing state and local government.
“I think history will judge SOAR to be a major turning point in Eastern Kentucky’s progress, but it will take a continued focus to find and fund the best ideas,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo said. “I look forward to working with this group to do whatever it takes to help the people throughout the region thrive.”
“I am pleased to see this effort moving forward, and I’m looking forward to working with this group to continue the conversation,” said Senate President Robert Stivers, who was unable to attend today’s meeting due to budget talks in Frankfort. “As the economics of the area continue to shift, it becomes increasingly evident that something must be done to stop the bleeding – and stop it soon. The time for conversation is now. I’m looking forward to beginning Congressman Rogers’ charge to ‘plan our work and work our plan.’”
Ten working groups will be responsible for leading discussions throughout the region on topics related to eastern Kentucky’s future economic well-being and quality of life. Based on citizen and organizational input, the groups will identify significant opportunities and a long-term vision related to their topics.
The working groups’ focus areas and chairs include:
- Agriculture/Community/Regional Foods: Daniel Wilson, Wolfe County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources
- Broadband: Lonnie Lawson, Somerset, president and CEO, The Center for Rural Development
- Business Recruitment: Greg Jones, Somerset, special project director, Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corp.
- Business Incubation: Jared Arnett, Pikeville, president and CEO, Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
- Education and Retraining: Jeff Whitehead, Hazard, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program
- Health: Dr. Nikki Stone, Hazard, dental director/faculty, UK June Buchanan Clinic
- Infrastructure: Jack Sykes, Pikeville, chairman of the board, Summit Engineering
- Leadership Development and Youth Engagement: Jonathan Gay, Morehead, executive director of Morehead State University Innovation and Commercialization Center
- Regional Collaboration and Identity: Sandy Runyon, Prestonsburg, executive director of the Big Sandy Area Development District
- Tourism, including Natural Resources, Arts & Heritage: Phil Osborne, Lexington, president of Osborne and Associates
Membership of the working groups will be open to anyone interested in participating; contact the SOAR office at 606-444-5127 or 606-437-5127 for more information.
Along with the executive committee and working groups, two other committees will be appointed to oversee fund development and to plan a ‘Futures Forum’ that will be a central component of future efforts to improve the region.
Jean Hale, chair, president and CEO of Community Trust Bank in Pikeville, will serve as chair of the development committee, which will work to build a sustaining resource base for SOAR initiaties. The founding members of this committee will work to create an integrated resource stream from the private, public, and philanthropic sectors, to support the permanent SOAR enterprise. It must be sufficient to attract world-class leadership in the national search for a founding SOAR executive director, to be named in the fall.
The Futures Forum, to be chaired by former Governor Paul Patton, will focus on long-term strategies to improve the region. Members of this group will work with the executive committee and work groups to translate immediate and ongoing efforts into future strategies. The Futures Forum will also develop a SOAR 2025 Vision to be presented to the region in a spring 2015 SOAR Futures Forum.
Executive Committee List (PDF)
Prior SOAR Announcements (PDF)