Commonwealth Journal

Local News

April 28, 2014

SOAR bipartisan effort seeks grass-roots input for Kentucky’s economy

Strategic plan outlined at Somerset conference

Somerset —

Do you have an idea for helping improve and diversify the economy of Appalachian Kentucky? Get ready to speak up.
The work groups of the Shaping our Appalachian Region (SOAR) effort plan to hold meetings in most parts of Eastern and Southern Kentucky this summer, to gather ideas for a strategic plan that will be written by the SOAR executive committee this fall.
The groups had their first meetings last week at the annual East Kentucky Leadership Conference at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset, a site that gave both the long-held conference and the months-old SOAR a broader geographic base, and wove together some of the region’s contrasting political threads.
“I’ve never seen so much progress or bipartisan commitment from the political establishment,” said Charles W. Fluharty, president of the Rural Policy Research Institute, who is acting as temporary staff leader for SOAR. “The challenge is to translate that to the grass roots.”
One idea frequently heard during the two-day meeting at the Center for Rural Development was a need to overcome the divisions created by county lines.
“The only way we’re going to get anything done is to come together as a region and do it,” Mike Miller, executive director of the Kentucky River Area Development District and a former mayor of Jackson, told the Regional Collaboration and Identity work group, one of 10.
Lake Cumberland Area Development District Executive Director Donna Diaz generally agreed, and said those involved in the effort shouldn’t use lack of government funding as an excuse for lack of action. “Building self-sufficiency is an important part of this,” she said.
Tourism prospects got much discussion at the meeting, but progress could come from many small successes, not big projects, said Peter Hille of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, who heads the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation, sponsor of the conference.

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