Complete coverage of Shaping Our Appalachian Region Summit

By: Whitney Burks, Matthew Rand, Tanner Hesterberg, Morgan Lentes, Angela Sparkman Email
By: Whitney Burks, Matthew Rand, Tanner Hesterberg, Morgan Lentes, Angela Sparkman Email
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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT)- Below you will find complete coverage of all the stories WYMT covered at the Shaping Our Appalachian Region Summit in Pikeville. Keep checking back as more content is added.

More than one million dollars coming to help SOAR initiative
By Angela Sparkman

More than one million dollars is on the way to Eastern Kentucky to help with the Shaping Our Appalachian Region, known as SOAR initiative.

Officials from Washington D.C. joined Congressman Hal Rogers (R-5th District) and Governor Steve Beshear (D-Kentucky) on Monday, July 7th for the announcements at the Pine Mountain State Park in Bell County.

During the meeting, Wendy Spencer told Congressman Rogers, Governor Beshear, and 100 others the Corporation for National and Community Service is investing more than one million dollars in an Americorps VISTA project in Eastern Kentucky.

It will bring 52 Americorps workers to Eastern Kentucky to work full-time. Their goal is to improve the economy and quality of life.

"To make sure Eastern Kentucky doesn't get left behind but thrives, and thrives in the future and has a good foundation and a lift for its citizens," said Wendy Spencer, CEO of Corporation for National and Community Service.

"If they believe in it and they will embrace it, then we're going to make changes that will better everybody's lives," said Governor Steve Beshear (D-Kentucky).

Marcus Plumlee is one of the Americorps workers. He is from Augusta, Georgia but went to college at Berea. He has already started working in the region.

"That's what's going to help in Eastern Kentucky is having people there working with the people already in the communities, just helping them achieve their visions," Plumlee said.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration also announced $312,000 dollars for job creation in the region.

Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, said in a news release the grant will provide technical assistance in the formation and implementation for the SOAR initiative for job creation and private sector growth in the region.

"EDA is pleased to support the collaborative SOAR initiative," said Williams. "This vital EDA assistance will help SOAR in its mission to help eastern Kentucky capitalize on its strengths to diversify, innovate and implement job-creating diversification strategies."

Congressman Rogers said they are also seeking other funding sources for SOAR.

"It's going to take the philanthropy of hundreds, thousands even, of donors of people who are giving in a charitable way," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R) 5th District.

However, leaders believe it can be done and help get nearly 8,000 who lost jobs in the coal industry back to work long-term.

Also during the SOAR meeting, Governor Beshear announced he is speaking at a White House luncheon on July 24th to 500 investors about investing in Eastern Kentucky.

Congressman Rogers announced the director for the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Thomas Frieden will tour our region with Congressman Rogers in August.

The tour marks the first time that the Director of the CDC has visited Eastern Kentucky.

"Our people have long suffered from high rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other health disparities, so Dr. Frieden decided to make a house call to eastern Kentucky," said Rogers. "This is a rare chance to bring a world-renown leader in health care to our doorstep. We will look to Dr. Frieden for help in diagnosing our high risks, as well as his prescription for how we can improve healthy living and morality rates."

The SOAR Health Impact Series is free and open to the public.

· Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Center for Rural Development

· Aug. 5 at 10 a.m. at the Hazard Community and Technical College

· Aug. 5 at 5:30 p.m. at the Ramada Paintsville Hotel & Convention Center

· Aug. 6 at 10 a.m. at the Morehead Conference Center

Space is limited for the SOAR Health Impact Series, but individuals can reserve a seat by contacting Cheryl Keaton at 606-657-3218 or at
Latest SOAR announcement sits well with eastern Kentuckians
By: Morgan Lentes

PINEVILLE, Ky (WYMT) - Friday's announcement by the Agriculture Secretary is welcome news to many eastern Kentuckians, who are ready to kick start the struggling economy.

There was a shared excitement among audience members, who learned Friday the federal government is stepping in to help eastern Kentucky. Among those in the audience at the Pine Mountain State Park Lodge was Joe Harris, a local business owner in Pineville.

"It was very interesting to hear we are going to have some growth come to our area. Bell County, Kentucky was one of the promise areas so I was very excited and looking forward to more businesses coming into our area," said Harris.

Harris is not alone in his excitement.

Candice Evans is the executive director for the Bell County Chamber of Commerce tells WYMT she is already thinking to the area's future success.

"I am looking forward, as the rest of these people are, to figure out what is coming up next," said Evans.

Folks at the event also mentioned the importance that the region is willing to work for its own betterment.

"I was very glad to see so many people come out today and it shows that we are all in this. We need to pull together to make this happen," said Harris.

Cheers rang out when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the "StrikeForce" Initiative is coming to the commonwealth. Bell County resident and Pineville attorney Steve Cawood said he left today's event feeling positive.

"What was encouraging to me just as a citizen of eastern Kentucky is simply the fact that you see what appears to be the foundation of a really strong state/federal commitment to help us in eastern Kentucky with some of our problems," said Cawood.

For others, the secretary's promise of future funding for the mountains is a welcome change to Washington politics.

"I think that is good to hear him talk about rural areas and recognize that we are the heart of the country," said Harris.

One audience member talked about how he can personally attest to the power of USDA funding. Jacob Kuhn supervises the Emergency Water Protection Program, which he said would not survive without that help.

"That would not have been available from anybody else to help stabilize road banks where school buses are going through, people need to get to work, those kinds of things," said Kuhn.

He added the program will put dollars in the hands of those who need it.

"We can use this initiative. We can say, 'Look, we have already been identified as a community of local need'. We will be able to get some extra resources," said Kuhn.

To view the entire news conference you can do so on under the SOAR Summit link.

USDA expanding poverty-reduction initiative into Eastern Kentucky
By Angela Sparkman

PINEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - 6:00 report

In front of a crowd of people at the Pine Mountain State Resort Park in Bell County, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced 73 rural Kentucky counties are now part of the StrikeForce initiative.

This means the USDA will partner with local organizations, businesses, and universities to invest in the communities.

"Focus on regional efforts and try to invest these resources that we have wisely, effectively, and efficiently to address these persistently poor areas and to create the kind of opportunity that rural Kentucky and rural America deserves," Vilsack said.

"I'm very thrilled and excited. This is a big thing. This will give our communities a leg up when they apply for grants of all sorts," said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Fifth District.

Local officials say this will create new opportunities in light of declining coal jobs.

"It's tremendous. The more attention we can get on Appalachia, on our region, and the situation we're dealing with as a result of the EPA, it's fantastic," said Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock.

Officials say the StrikeForce initiative is one more way to grow the economy in Eastern Kentucky.

Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers are going through thousands of ideas presented at the SOAR Summit last month.

"Our challenge now is to find a way to implement these great ideas. There are hundreds of goals and some can be short term, but we have to find ways to think of the long-term," said Rep. Rogers.

They all said it is a bi-partisan effort to fight poverty and grow the local economy.

4:00 report

Governor Steve Beshear, Congressman Hal Rogers, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Eastern Kentucky is part of the StrikeForce initiative. What this means is the USDA will work with local organizations to pursue investments in Eastern Kentucky.

In front of a packed room at the Pine Mountain State Resort Park in Bell County, local, state, and federal officials said they are working together to combat poverty and grow the economy in light of declining coal jobs.

"If we are going to diversify the economy, we need to make long-term changes that will move this region forward. They're going to have to make it. You're going to have to make it," Gov. Beshear (D-Kentucky) said during his speech.

"Working together, dreaming big, thinking outside the box, creating new opportunities, staying with it over a period of time, not going to happen overnight," said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-5th District) said during his speech.

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced 73 rural Kentucky counties are now in the StrikeForce initiative that addresses poverty.

"As things change, the challenge is for us to figure out how to overlay an economy that can compliment the mainstay of the economy," Sec. Vilsack said.

Congressman Rogers and Governor Beshear said this is one component to come of the SOAR Summit and more are expected.

Governor Beshear and Congressman Rogers are reviewing the SOAR report and will then determine the next steps. The SOAR report includes more than one thousand comments and 600 written ideas.

Added 1-17-14:

Eastern Kentucky included in strike zone program that will provide economic aid

Counties in Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana and West Virginia are joining a federal program designed to help persistently poor rural communities take advantage of government resources.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a conference call that the StrikeForce initiative has helped to support more than 80,000 projects since it began in 2010. Those projects include home and business loans, natural resources conservation and food assistance.

Although the loans and assistance aren't new, the initiative helps people take advantage of them in the communities where they are most needed. Vilsack said many USDA programs are underutilized, so money that could be spent in rural communities ends up going back to Washington, D.C.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Lawmakers ponder EKY's future at SOAR legislative panel session

By Tanner Hesterberg

Dozens of lawmakers from Eastern Kentucky and across the state took part in a special panel as the SOAR Summit concluded Monday afternoon.

Elected officials who spoke during the forum seemed to agree on two main points - Eastern Kentucky needs to diversify its economy beyond coal; and we cannot attain that goal without working together.

Many lawmakers concerned about the future of Eastern Kentucky admit becoming less dependent on the coal industry is an uncomfortable thought.

"I believe in coal," said Sen. Robin Webb, D-18th District. "I still believe it's a transitional, multi-generational fuel that's gonna be here and be a part of this economy no matter what. But we have no choice."

Finding ways to bring non coal-related jobs to the region is a necessary step to making sure Eastern kentucky keeps pace in a global economy, leaders at SOAR said.

"I'm Eastern Kentucky from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet and proud of it, and I know you are too," Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-99th District, said. "I want to have the same kind of communities and same kind of region and same type of hope than any other region throughout this country."

It's a region were many people rely heavily on government assistance.

"I do not want anybody else bringing more checks and handouts in here to us," said Sen. Brandon Smith, R-30th District. "That's not what we need. There's nothing more demeaning to somebody capable of doing something and contributing and offering something than to just give them something for them to go away."

Even though coal is a huge part of Eastern Kentucky's heritage, legislators said they cannot let that stop them from pursuing a better future.

"We have to put tradition and our pride and egos aside,” Sen. Ray Jones, D-31st District, said. “And I think we do that not as Republicans and Democrats, but as Eastern Kentuckians. I think there is a bright future.”

Rep. Fitz Steele, D-84th District, said, "I'm an old coal miner and will be until the day I die. I'll be back. We'll be back. But until then we have to put our differences to the side, we have to work together to attract industry."

Industry could help diversify the region's economy, panel members said.

"We're accessible for tourism," Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Fifth District, said. "We're accessible for high tech data processing, manufacturing, and a big array of thriving opportunities."

Some lawmakers think those opportunities could come to fruition through legislation.

"What would be wrong with taking some coal severance money, putting it in a pot and telling a business, 'If you create one job and keep it for a year, we're gonna write you a check for five thousand dollars?'" Rep. Rick Nelson, (D)-8th District, said.

One SOAR legislative panel member even suggested Eastern Kentucky be added to the Bourbon Trail.

"While this is a distance to come from the Bourbon Trail, I think individuals would love to come to this area to visit," said Sen. Tom Buford, R-22nd District. "Great hotels, great towns. Build it right here if you want to."

Gov. Steve Beshear said, "We've heard a tremendous amount of creative ideas, powerful messages and strong commitment. What I've witnessed here today gives me hope that we can turn this into a substantive, long-term effort."

The SOAR planning committee will review all comments and suggestions from Monday's summit and compile a report with recommendations that will be presented to Beshear and Rogers.

Those two lawmakers have promised to present a plan calling for the enforcement of those recommendations.
Former Governor Patton led SOAR session on job creation

By: Matthew Rand

The SOAR Summit consisted of several breakout sessions Monday, with topics ranging from tourism to health.

One session was designed to gather public input on ways to create jobs and keep those jobs in Eastern Kentucky.

Former Kentucky Governor Paul Patton led the discussion.

Patton says Eastern Kentucky is hemorrhaging coal mining jobs, and the trend is having a ripple effect on local economies.

"The average coal job's value is $81,000," he said. "Each lost coal job can mean a loss of three or more jobs in Eastern Kentucky."

Patton headed up the afternoon breakout session on job creation, which looked at ways to bring more high-paying jobs to the mountains.

"If you've got an executive that's locating a company and they're making a decision: I'm going to be in Eastern Kentucky or I'm going to be somewhere else," said Jared Arnett, President and CEO of the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. "How do we compete?"

People suggested a number of solutions, including investing in coal alternatives like natural gas, oil, and bio-fuel.

Others said evaporating funds for education are leaving students unprepared for a 21st century economy.

"This is devastating to students who are already at an economic disadvantage," said one woman, who said she was a teacher. "I would ask that we all collectively talk to our legislators to make sure they make education a priority in the next session."

One thing everyone seemed to agree on was that Eastern Kentucky's greatest economic asset remained its people.

Officials concluded the session by thanking everyone for their participation, and cautioned that whatever change comes from the summit will be incremental, and will not take place overnight.


Shaping Our Appalachian Region Summit starts with talks of diversification

By: Whitney Burks

The Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, Summit kicked off Monday morning at the East Kentucky Expo Center with nearly 1,700 people in attendance. There is an air about the region of hope, hope that something can be done to move this region forward.

The Summit sessions early in the day focused on the idea that there is hope in the region for change. Speakers talked about diversifying a region that is so used to relying heavily on the coal industry.
With nearly six thousand miners out of work since 2011, political leaders know it is time to switch the focus.

Governor Steve Beshear told us, “I think you're going to have to get Eastern Kentucky and the people of Eastern Kentucky to work more as a region and I think they're ready to do that. The congressman and I were talking this morning about how this can be different from past efforts and I think it's because of the sense of urgency.”

The sessions included speakers from a region in Minnesota that faced similar challenge, a success story of a region able to overcome its difficulties.

The political leaders here say this is just the very beginning of planning stages for SOAR, but they say they expect to see real change for this region in the near future.

Participants at SOAR summit generally optimistic about event

By: Whitney Burkes

A common them at the SOAR Summit today was hope and a belief that economic change can and will come to his region. Political leaders say it is an urgent situation, moving Eastern Kentucky away from relying so heavily on the coal industry.
Some agree like former host of Comment On Kentucky like Al Smith. He said,” Will it happen? Yeah it's going to happen because they're not going to dig coal in Eastern Kentucky anymore, not like we did in the past.”

Others say completely switching the focus entirely from coal is maybe not the best idea. Al Cross from the Institute for Rural Journalism said, “Coal is going to continue to be the largest single economic player in this region outside of government and it needs to be at the table. It does not need to see activities like this as going against its interests.”

But leaders at the SOAR Summit say this is just the beginning. They will continue gathering ideas and to plan. The key they say is bipartisanship, which was evident by the two pulling the Summit together, Democratic Governor Steve Beshear and Republican Congressman Hal Rogers.

Al Smith is hopeful the problems the region faces are solvable. He said, “There are solutions in eastern Kentucky but you're going to have to band together and build a critical mass of support to make change happen.”

Participants at the Summit say they have a vision of crossing county lines, bringing the region together, and moving Eastern Kentucky's economy forward.


Father and son from Minnesota share how their town rebounded after mining slump

By: Morgan Lentes

There’s been a lot of talk since the announcement of the SOAR Summit about how specifically to get Eastern Kentucky back on track economically. While those questions might still be around after today, earlier we got to see a brief look at how another area facing similar issues was able to turn things around.

Two men from Minnesota spoke at the SOAR Summit today, because they’ve shared similar struggles that Eastern Kentuckians do. Now they're prospering once more.

Tony Seritch says, “We're seeing our unemployment shrink, we're seeing more jobs added to rural communities, in an area that has been dependent on mining for years.”

Father and son pair, Joe and Tony Sertich spoke at the summit about the decline of their own mining town and then the revival of it.

Joe Sertich told us, “We don't know what works best for Eastern Kentucky but what we do know is regionalism works. When you blur the lines across borders, when you coordinate all the difference support of the private and public sector, it works.”

One project that worked for them was embracing technology and making it available to anyone in need.

The elder Seritch said, “We know that we can work remotely if we have enough broadband and so we wanted to make it easy for people to go right on main street of their town, either learn the skills and or start a business.”

The men stress they don't have all the answers, just a helpful example to look to. However they see hope for our region.

Joe Seritch said, “ What we don't need is another large flash in the pan that isn't going anywhere and I'm convinced today that all the right political leaders were there, the young people were at the table. I think the formula for what it's going to take to really begin to pull the region up with a lot of hard work has been launched.”

Tony Sertich says their unemployment numbers are now around 6 percent in Minnesota.
The men offered a few other pieces of advice during their talk today. They say folks have to commit to education and look for other options besides just mining. Tourism and manufacturing are just a few.


Senate Candidate attends SOAR to learn about Eastern Kentucky’s problems

One candidate for U.S senate also attended today's SOAR summit.

Republican Matt Bevin says he came to the summit to listen and learn about the issues facing Eastern Kentucky. Bevin says he believes it is evident how much the people of the region are searching for ways to make a difference.

Commenting on the region he said, “I see joy, but I see sadness here and it touches me. It moves me how people are desperate and hungry and hoping for some kind of change going forward.”

Senator Mitch McConnell and Democratic front-runner Alison Lundergan Grimes did not attend.
Senator Rand Paul, who's being mentioned as a presidential candidate in 2016, told us last week he thought the summit was a good idea and would have a representative there.

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