Leaders discuss economic challenges ahead of SOAR summit

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - The Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) summit is one week away.

More than 1,000 people have accepted the invitation from Governor Steve Beshear and Representative Hal Rogers to come together to discuss Eastern Kentucky's economic future.

The purpose of the conference is to bring people together to find solutions to poverty, unemployment, and other economic challenges faced by the region.

"That's really the concern," said Jared Arnett, President and CEO of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. "Where are our communities going to generate tax revenue to provide services? How are we going to provide jobs and maintain our economy?"

"I think the governor and the congressman are very aware this is a very serious situation," said former Kentucky Governor Paul Patton, who will lead one of the breakout sessions at the SOAR summit.

Patton says Eastern Kentucky needs to find new revenue sources once provided by coal; a region that lost 5,700 coal jobs between July of 2011 and July of 2013.

"The coal industry brings new money into our economy, and it's one of the few things that does bring new money into the economy," Patton said.

Economic leaders say a big part of SOAR will be identifying the region's economic strengths and finding new ways to use them.

"Our coal miners are the hardest-working people you'll find in the country, and companies realize that," said Arnett.

Both Patton and Arnett are cautiously hopeful some progress will be made at the summit. However, both say change will take time.

The SOAR summit will take place December 9th beginning at 8 a.m. at the East Kentucky Expo Center.

Registration information can be found at https://kydlgweb.ky.gov/.

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