Lawson tapped to lead SOAR broadband working group

March 28, 2014

This week, Congressman Hal Rogers and Governor Steve Beshear announced the members of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) executive committee and named the chairs of 10 working groups that will continue the work of the SOAR initiative.

Lonnie Lawson, President and CEO of The Center for Rural Development, has been tapped to chair the Broadband Working Group that will identify long-term broadband strategies for Eastern Kentucky. The committee will specifically address opportunities for deploying improved and expanded broadband and Internet services, so-called ‘middle-mile’ core fiber optic cable, and public ‘last mile’ networks to provide Eastern Kentucky homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, and governments world-class access for a globally competitive future.

The Center for Rural Development has been a key player in planning for the expansion of broadband in Southern and Eastern Kentucky for two years. Recently, in partnership with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, The Center was designated as the lead entity for the first phase of broadband expansion in Eastern Kentucky. With a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, The Center completed a feasibility study to outline the costs and plans of laying dark fiber to meet broadband needs in Eastern Kentucky.

“I am pleased to be a part of the SOAR efforts to explore broadband opportunities for Eastern Kentucky,” said Lonnie Lawson, president and CEO of The Center for Rural Development. “High speed broadband, and technology infrastructure has enormous implications for business opportunities, employment, education and healthcare. It can level the playing field for Eastern Kentucky, and create long-term competitive advantages and growth for a region that has been struggling. ”

The 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 long-term vision related to their topics.

In addition to the Broadband Working Group, others groups include: Agriculture/Community/Regional Foods; Business Recruitment; Business Incubation; Education and Retraining; Health; Infrastructure; Leadership Development and Youth Engagement; Regional Collaboration and Identity; and Tourism, including Natural Resources, Arts & Heritage.

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.

Chuck Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, was named interim executive director of the SOAR initiative until a permanent executive director is named.

The SOAR executive committee was also announced and includes:

• Congressman Hal Rogers and Gov. Steve Beshear, co-chairs

• 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 for Jackson Energy

• Bob Mitchell, Corbin, board of directors for The Center for Rural Development and retired chief of staff for Congressman 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.

Along with the executive committee and working groups, two other committees will 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 initiatives. The Futures Forum will be chaired by former Governor Paul Patton and will focus on long-term strategies to improve the region. The Futures Forum will also develop a SOAR 2025 Vision to be presented to the region in spring 2015.