PRESTONSBURG — Representatives from numerous agencies and diverse walks of life attended the Prestonsburg listening session for the emergent Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative at the Big Sandy Area Development District on Thursday evening.
The session, focused on Regional Collaboration and Identity, is one of 10 such work groups with meetings being held around the region. The session was a forum for the local community to have their voices heard and their ideas recorded, with the hope that plans for economic recovery will bubble up from the grassroots instead of trickling down from Frankfort.
Attendees included representatives from several Area Development Districts, Prestonsburg city council, the Floyd County Chamber of Commerce, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, the University of Pikeville, local businesses, several media institutions, the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, the Kentucky Innovation Network, and Kentucky’s Department for Local Government, as well as numerous concerned citizens, including some who are unemployed despite a wealth of experience and education.
Tony Wilder, a 2008 appointee of Gov. Steve Beshear to be the Commissioner of the Department for Local Government, told attendees, “Your governor is really passionate about this.”
The evening’s discussion revolved around Eastern Kentucky’s unique cultural identity, our underutilized assets, and the roadblocks to getting the region as a whole to collaborate for a common goal.
Participants commonly cited the seemingly arbitrary county lines as a hurdle for a regional effort, but our reclaimed mine lands as a resource ready to be exploited. Our remote location was seen as a hindrance to attracting new industries like manufacturing, while our subpar broadband infrastructure is restricting our ability to draw high-tech jobs.
At the same time, we have a region with indisputable natural beauty and a workforce brimming with tenacity and ingenuity.
Listening sessions like this one—and those with a focus on other areas of economic development, including business, education, health, and infrastructure to name only a few—are being held frequently in the coming weeks in different cities. All ideas will be compiled in a comprehensive report, due out in August.
On Thursday alone, a tourism-focused work group will meet at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg at 10 a.m., and agriculture-themed work groups will be meeting at 6 p.m. in Whitesburg and 7 p.m. in Louisa. A calendar of upcoming sessions and a bounty of additional information can be found at the SOAR initiative’s new website, soar-ky.org.