It was a grand time to be in eastern Kentucky.
For those arriving in Pikeville last weekend, everything seemed to shout “hello and welcome” to the attendees of the 2016 SOAR Innovation Summit.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (KY-5) and then-Gov. Steve Beshear launched the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative in 2013. Its mission is to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, and improve the lives of everyone living in 54 counties of Appalachian Kentucky.
If you’ve never been to Pikeville or if it’s been a while since you’ve travelled to the city, you should take time to visit this summer. As our KET crew snaked down the mountain and around the final curve into Pikeville last Sunday afternoon, we found a vibrant community. The shopping areas and restaurants on the west side of town were brimming with traffic. The downtown area revealed a surprising array of new buildings and construction.
The Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Pikeville has a commanding presence on Main Street. Across from two very nice hotels, the school’s new colleges of optometry and nursing are under construction. From there it’s only a short walk to a downtown park and the East Kentucky Expo Center.
Pikeville is bustling.
But the rest of the region continues to struggle from job losses due to the downturn in coal mining, lingering health disparities, and insufficient infrastructure to connect Appalachia to the outside world. Monday’s SOAR Innovation Summit focused on efforts to strengthen and diversify eastern Kentucky’s beleaguered economy as attendees learned about a range of innovative ideas and promising solutions.
This year Gov. Matt Bevin joined Congressman Rogers as co-chairs of the event. The schedule included presentations by an array of federal officials, including Appalachian Regional Commission Co-chair Earl Gohl and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Monday night at 8, KET will air a recap of this year’s summit. Here’s a preview of what you’ll see.