Today, the governor and Congressman Hal Rogers spoke with reporters about the broadband project. Rogers, the chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, said that the omnibus budget bill signed into law by Congress last week included $10 million for broadband deployment in distressed Appalachian counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.
“I’m hopeful that this will be the beginning of federal investments for broadband in our hard-hit coalfields,” Rogers said.
Rogers explained that the Center for Rural Development in Somerset has spent two years researching high-speed, high-capacity fiber cable for the region. He said the current plan is to hook into the national broadband grid in Cincinnati and bring that service to eastern Kentucky.
Rogers said high-speed internet access is critical to boosting the region’s status in the world market. “It takes away our historic barriers to better jobs, the difficult terrain and isolation, and all of a sudden the world is flat and the famed superior work ethic of our people will be able to compete with the world from home.”
The eastern Kentucky project will be tied into Beshear’s overall plan to lay some 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure access to the entire state. The governor’s office says only about half of the state’s households use broadband service, and nearly one-quarter can’t access broadband at all. The broadband project should provide internet service at speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second to homes and businesses across the Commonwealth. The governor said that he and Rogers are committed to ensuring that the service will be affordably priced.
Specific details on the eastern Kentucky portion of the roll-out are expected in the next few months.
5:10 p.m. The SOAR summit concludes. Be sure to join us tonight at 8 on KET for a one-hour recap of the day’s events, and a conversation with Gov. Beshear and Rep Rogers.
5:00 p.m. Rep. Hal Rogers expresses his appreciation for Gov. Beshear’s commitment to making the SOAR summit happen. He says we live within a day’s drive of millions of our fellow Americans. We’re accessible to high tech jobs. We have beautiful mountains and rivers. We have world-class talent. So with the latest technology, Rogers says we can access companies anywhere, and we can harness the hardest-working workforce in the world to businesses around globe. Rogers says he and the governor want to see a major broadband infrastructure project connecting this region to the national grid. It will be an “eastern Kentucky super I-way.” He wants to make the region a “silicon holler.”
4:50 p.m. Evoking his Baptist upbringing, Beshear says, “This summit today is an alter call for the people of eastern Kentucky, and I take your attendance here as your commitment to take control of your own destiny … We can and we will overcome. Amen.”
4:45 p.m. Gov. Steve Beshear returns to the podium saying, “This has indeed been an interesting day … What I’ve witnessed here today gives me hope that we can turn this into a substantive, long-term effort.” Beshear says that within about two months, he and Rep. Hal Rogers will announce an administrative committee charged with taking the leadership role in moving the SOAR efforts into the future. And he commits to finding the money to fund these efforts.
4:40 p.m. Sen. Tom Buford of Nicholasville encourages people to consider extending the Bourbon Trail to eastern Kentucky. He also stresses bringing more higher education opportunities to the region.
4:35 p.m. Rep. Rick Nelson of Middlesboro suggests allocating a portion of the coal severance money to providing incentive bonuses to business that create five or ten jobs at a time.
4:20 p.m. Now a panel of legislators are discussing some of the ideas and questions generated by the earlier discussions. Rep. Leslie Combs of Pikeville stresses the need for bipartisan collaboration saying, “We cannot be divided. We cannot be against each other.” And Sen. Ray Jones also of Pikeville adds, “We can’t wait any longer to put our differences aside.”
4:00 p.m. Gov. Paul Patton from the jobs creation and retention session says that even with all the coal jobs that have been lost in recent years, more losses are still to come. And an average coal job is worth $81,000. So Patton says the focus needs to be on jobs that will bring new money into the economy – both by attracting new industries, and by supporting existing businesses and helping them grow. (Eighty percent of new jobs come from existing businesses that expand.) The sectors of healthcare, manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, and aquaculture are all important to this effort. A well-educated workforce is the foundation on which all of this will be built.
3:55 p.m. Hilda Legg reports the infrastructure session discussed extending traditional roadways as well as broadband internet access so we get access to every home in eastern Kentucky. Then upgrading the existing water and sewer infrastructure to better serve industrial needs of the future. The region should create a comprehensive infrastructure and utilities plan to expedite development and better match available land with interested industries.
3:50 p.m. Kim McCann says the regional collaboration and innovation focused on these areas: Creating a food system for the region from planting to consumption. Encouraging the regional higher education campuses to collaborate to engage more students. Boosting efforts to market regional tourism activities, something along the lines of the Bourbon Trail. Improving networks for communication and technology to better connect residents with each other and the world. Branding the region as one eastern Kentucky to make it easier to represent it to the outside. And improving the transportation infrastructure to facilitate movement throughout the region.
3:45 p.m. Ron Daley from the lifelong learning session says it’s important to strengthen partnerships between K-12 education and the Workforce Development Cabinet. The region needs to create a climate that encourages life-long learning, and partnerships are essential to success with this. Also important: programs to help children that learn differently; STEM training as well as schooling in the arts and humanities; and doing more for the youngest learners (birth to three years old). Finally, how can we support the care-givers of students who aren’t their parents.
3:40 p.m. Jean Hale reports from the public and private investment session, saying private equity and venture capital are important. Getting the information out about what funding sources is also critical. She says it’s time to rethink how the severance tax is used.
3:35 p.m. Haley McCoy from the leadership development and youth engagement session echoes the need for an information clearinghouse. All students need access to entrepreneurship opportunities, not just the top 10 percent of young people. Mentorship is also critical for youth engagement.
3:30 p.m. From the tourism session the group discussed how to brand hundreds of attractions into a single word. Creating an information clearinghouse of tourism opportunities would be helpful. Most every town in eastern Kentucky has become a gateway for a hiking trail. Music, adventure tourism and food, even moonshine, all provide unique opportunities for luring tourists to the region.
3:25 p.m. Nikki Stone with the UK Center for Excellence for Rural Health reports on the
health, biotechnology and human resources breakout session. This industry sector is growing significantly, she says, so the challenges faced here are probably different from those facing other groups. So how can we work collaboratively, especially to meet the new opportunities that the Affordable Care Act will create?
3:20 p.m. Now on to the afternoon general session where each of the breakout groups will report their findings.
3:15 p.m. In a follow-up chat with Larry Hayes, he says coal provided eastern Kentucky with a grand and glorious past, but everyone here understands the world is changing and we’re trying to find a way forward. We’re all in this together. If you live in Louisville, you’re not immune to what happens in eastern Kentucky. Finding an answer up here will be dependent on finding partners around the state that can be helpful. Hayes says he doesn’t think money is the single answer to this. It’s also about finding a different way of thinking and a new way of looking at the future.
3:05 p.m. In a break between sessions, and chatting with journalist Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service who says, “There is a sense of urgency in eastern Kentucky that we have to get it right this time.”
2:47 p.m. Larry Hayes of the Cabinet for Economic Development says that many government officials and cabinet heads are here today and listening to all the suggestions. They want to partner with you, and everyone has to work together to create a can-do, entrepreneurial spirit. But Hayes cautions the answers won’t come from the government, they will come from the people of eastern Kentucky. Don’t wait for us in the government, he says.
2:42 p.m. A veteran of the coal industry says he believes the state may wind up with as few as 1,000 mining jobs in just a few years. For entrepreneurs to succeed here, he says they must have access to capital, and right now it’s too hard for people to get bank loans to launch new businesses. Gov. Patton jokes that to find eastern Kentucky’s entrepreneurs, all you have to do is go to Lexington.
2:30 p.m. And now the conversation explores how to unite and organize the region and advance the SOAR initiatives. A woman suggests exploring ways for the natural resource companies to cooperate so that the coal, natural gas, and oil industries can work together and benefit each other. Others say that private investment is as important as government support.
2:05 p.m. The conversation now shifts to exploring how to put these ideas into action.
1:57 p.m. A woman suggests that local people need training on how to be superstar marketers for our region.
1:53 p.m. You can check Twitter for additional updates from other sessions currently underway.
1:50 p.m. Jeff Vanderbeck, publisher of the Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville, says he grew up someplace else and came here. He sees excitement and opportunity in this community. He says we need a cohesive private-sector entity to represent the entire region to the international business community to help recruit businesses and individuals to come here.
1:42 p.m. One young man comments that prisons and correctional industries are the wrong kind of development from both a moral and economic point of view. A woman asks why does federal money help fund building prisons, but not other industries in the region.
1:38 p.m. Frank Hicks of the Kentucky Woodland Owners Association says the region needs better management of forest and timber resources, and help to develop wood-using industries here so those profits can remain in the region.
1:36 p.m. Several people have asked why can’t recycling efforts be boosted to create jobs and clean up the local environment.
1:31 p.m. A man from the audience: Businesses that get tax incentives to locate in the region should be forced to hire native eastern Kentuckians. Many times these companies bring in their own employees and don’t hire locally, so those payrolls don’t benefit the local people and communities.
1:27 p.m. Another audience member: Ford and Toyota aren’t going to bring a plant to the mountains. We have to start investing in our own entrepreneurs, and training our young people to think like entrepreneurs from a very early age. We also need a $300+ million dollar investment fund to support entrepreneurial ventures.
1:20 p.m. One woman asks why isn’t there a Veterans Administration hospital in eastern Kentucky. She says it would generate high quality jobs, and provide local veterans with good healthcare without having to travel outside the region.
1:15 p.m. A panel about job creation and retention with former Gov. Paul Patton from the University of Pikeville, Jared Arnett from the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Larry Hayes from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, and Danny VanHoose of Appalachian Wireless. They’re taking comments and suggestions from the audience.
1:10 p.m. Rep. Jill York of Grayson says she agrees with earlier speakers who say we need a new narrative about how we think about eastern Kentucky. She’s pleased about the push to make counties in the region certified workforce-ready communities. York says some of those conversations are difficult, but they are vital to making the region competitive.
1:05 p.m. Back live on KETKY and KET.org/live with Rep. Rocky Adkins. He says eastern Kentucky has made significant advancements, like the expansion of water and sewer service. That’s made the region better able to compete for jobs. The expansion of the Mountain Parkway will also be key for access to these counties. Adkins says educational and healthcare opportunities are improved, tourist attractions have increased – all of these things are important to attracting and retaining good jobs. He says coal and energy will continue to be important to the region’s economy but we’ve got to bring more manufacturing and industrial jobs to eastern Kentucky. The goal is to create an economy that’s stable and sustainable for generations to come.
12:05 p.m. At the close the morning session, Speaker Stumbo and Sen. Stivers offered their thoughts about the summit so far. Stivers says there’s great hope and there are some great ideas to be discussed, but we don’t want to give up on our past. He says technology can be the great equalizer in helping eastern Kentucky compete, but much work remains to develop the region’s infrastructure. He’s pleased to see people from across the state attending the summit because what’s being discussed here is important for all of Kentucky.
Stumbo says the fact that 1,700 people showed up in Pikeville on a cold, rainy morning shows the resolve that people have for dealing with the problems this region faces. SOAR is about getting hope for the future of eastern Kentucky, and exploring the opportunities that can be brought here with planning and hard work. He’s also optimistic about the strategic plan to make the Mountain Parkway four lanes for its entire length within six to eight years.
Our live coverage and live blogging will return at 1 p.m.
11:55 a.m. Closing thoughts from Joe and Tony Sertich: Shift the way you think about creating businesses and training workers. Embrace young people with fresh ideas. Place is important: Think about your state in a different way and build up your assets. What worked in the past isn’t good enough for the future. Take risks and be willing to invest in businesses that might fail. Ignore the critics and do what’s best for your region.
11:36 a.m. Tony Sertich: It’s ok that some young people leave your community after high school. Go out and find the world, be a sponge, but once you graduate from college, come back home. Be a boomerang and import the knowledge you learned back into our communities. But we have to give those boomerangs a reason to come back home. Ask those who don’t return, what’s missing? What would it take for you to come back?
11:15 a.m. More from Joe and Tony Sertich: In Minnesota, severance taxes on the mined ore stay in the Iron Range region to reinvest in that region. In 1970s, the IRRRB started a rainy day trust fund to prepare for the day when the resources had been mined-out. We have a nest-egg that we hope will never go away. It’s funded a jobs program to keep unemployed people from leaving the region. We gave people a paycheck to do public works projects rather than an unemployment check. We also invested in our tourism economy. And then we invested in manufacturing. We would rather start and grow small businesses right in the region, rather than trying to bring a major new plant into the area.
10:55 a.m. Joe and Tony Sertich from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) are taking the stage to tell how they’ve worked to turn-around northern Minnesota. It’s a rural area (about the size of West Virginia) that has been dependent on mining iron ore. In a one-and-a-half year period in the 1980s, the region lost more than 10,000 mining jobs.
10:42 a.m. More from Chuck Fluharty: There are several critical questions for determining whether SOAR can be a success: Can you be about rethinking core missions? Can you be about creating a renaissance leadership culture, especially among younger generations? Can you engage the border-crossers? Can you redefine who “we” are and who “they” are to promote better social inclusion? Can you be about restructuring community and government platforms? Can you be about committing to the long haul?
10:37 a.m. Chuck Fluharty of the Rural Policy Research Institute says what you’re doing here isn’t just about the future of eastern Kentucky or the rest of the Commonwealth, but it’s about all of America. Rural areas, on average, are growing more quickly than urban ones. Investment in rural regions should be made to promote national prosperity.
10:27 a.m. Audrey Sniezek, a native of northern Ohio, works remotely for Microsoft and lives in this region because she loves the rock-climbing opportunities here. She helped bring Microsoft’s TEALS program — Technology, Education and Literacy in Schools — to Lee County High School. She says these computer science classes are changing the ways the students think about learning. They also give kids hope and vision for a better path in the future.
10:15 a.m. Ron Daley, Hazard Community and Technical College and the Kentucky Work-Ready Program: The work-ready initiative tells us what we need to do in our counties to improve our workforce. Thirteen counties in eastern Kentucky are joining together to assist their neighboring counties to create a network that will help improve workforce readiness across the region. We are developing a grant initiative in 17 school districts of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative to support innovation in rural education; support personalized learning, teacher and leader effectiveness, and college and career readiness; and to create next-generation classrooms to allow students have greater access to the best educational tools, wherever they may be.
10:05 a.m. Jeff Whitehead, Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program: Graphic designers, programmers, customer service jobs and more are all being performed from home and from remote places. Major corporations don’t have to move here and build brick-and-mortar facilities for our people to be able to work for them. With technology, our mountains are no longer obstacles but are attractions. “We talk with potential employers everyday, and they recognize and appreciate the work ethic of eastern Kentuckians. They desire them. They appreciate the skills they have and the training they possess.”
9:56 a.m. Jennifer Noble, owner Treehouse Café and Bakery in Hazard, says she considered moving away to pursue her art career but decided that her needed her more than New York City did. “I believed that if I can do anything, then I can do it anywhere … I struggled, but I made it happen.”
9:53 a.m. Brandon Pennington, Executive Director of Harlan Tourist and Convention Commission, says passion about the region and these communities is key. That passion should be so infectious that it will bring people here, and inspire young people to be involved in these efforts.
9:48 a.m. Andrew Abbott, Morehead State University student body president, stresses the importance of entrepreneurship: “We need to be graduating employers, not just employees.”
9:40 a.m. Sen. Stivers: “It’s time that we sit down and have the real dialogue … for us to not just make eastern Kentucky better, because the problems here are the problems that will affect the state as a whole.”
9:35 a.m. Speaker Stumbo: “There’s nothing wrong with eastern Kentucky that we can’t fix with what’s right with eastern Kentucky.”
9:30 a.m. Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo announces plan for completing four lanes of the entire length of the Mountain Parkway.
9:25 a.m. Rep. Rogers: Rather than seeing these people as unemployed coal miners in despair, I see some of the best engineers, machine operators, and mechanics – the best in the world – and looking for a new opportunity … The new interstate highway is the new high-speed internet cable. The raw material will come to your plant, and the processed material will leave your plant by that cable … I see great opportunity there.
9:18 a.m. Rep. Rogers: “You’re making history here today … A century from now, I’d like it to be said that on a cold and dreary Monday morning, December 9, 2013, that a group of some of eastern Kentucky’s best began a revitalization that began a new eastern Kentucky … We’re not here to make another study of eastern Kentucky … we are here to come up with a plan for action to be followed up by committees and all of us working together … Today is about the plan, tomorrow is about the work … This will not be easy. It will not be quick, and it will not always be successful … There are no silver bullets, but there may be some golden rewards if we stay with it.”
9:10 a.m. Gov. Beshear: “We’re here because big challenges require big solutions … This situation has reached a critical point … The need to diversify this economy has never been greater, and the recent downturn in coal isn’t the only reason … For eastern Kentucky to catch up and get ahead we need not only ideas and strategies, but we need action. We need action now.”
9:05 a.m. Gov. Steve Beshear, Rep. Hal Rogers, Kentucky Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, and Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers now taking the stage.
8:50 a.m. Our crew is assembled here in Pikeville and back in Lexington and Louisville, getting ready to bring you live coverage of SOAR, the Shaping Our Appalachian Region summit. We begin at 9 a.m. on KETKY and online at KET.org/live.
If you can’t watch the live broadcast, you can follow us here and on Twitter for a running synopsis of the proceedings. Online producer John Gregory, associate producers Kara Ferguson and Ali Ord, and I will provide updates throughout the day.
Ahead of tomorrow’s Shaping Our Appalachian Region conference in Pikeville, we’ve compiled a short reading list of articles about the summit, the challenges facing eastern Kentucky, and ideas for the future. These pieces will prepare you for watching our live coverage of SOAR, starting tomorrow at 9 a.m. on KETKY and at KET.org/live, as well as our hour-long recap of the day’s events at 8 p.m. on KET.
–Gov. Steve Beshear and Rep. Hal Rogers outline their goals for convening SOAR.
“The summit and the work that will follow is a bipartisan, private-public effort to create and implement new strategies that will help these important communities … Eastern Kentucky is not an island. Kentucky is strongest when all of its regions contribute to the economic competitiveness of its economy.”
–The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Bill Estep reviews the challenges facing Appalachian Kentucky, and some of the failed efforts of the past.
“The coal industry long dominated private-sector employment in the region, but there are fewer people working in the industry than at any time since the state started keeping records in 1927. The layoffs have spread through the economy, hurting other businesses, and the downturn in production has cut tax revenue for state and local governments.”
–Pike County Judge/Executive Wayne T. Rutherford says the issues have been studied enough. What the region needs, he says, is results.
“We have planned and we have made progress, but what we need now is cooperation and help from the Federal government to invest here to reclaim our tomorrows.”
–Professor Dan O’Hair and researcher Michael Childress at the University of Kentucky believe solutions that will help Appalachian communities can benefit struggling rural counties across the Commonwealth.
“Kentucky’s county-centric parochialism, legacy of undervaluing education, and geographic terrain have presented formidable obstacles in the past, but information and communication technologies offer the potential to overcome these traditional barriers … The reality is that rural Kentucky — not just Appalachia Kentucky — needs a new plan for the future.”
–Finally, Appalachian historian Ron Eller encourages the participants to learn from past mistakes.
“Thinking out of the box about land use and tax reform, reforestation, energy efficiency, the expansion of public places, water conservation, health care delivery and job training will generate needed employment opportunities and also build confidence, resourcefulness and hope … The best outcome of the Pikeville gathering, therefore, would be the creation of an ongoing process to sustain democratic change in the region.”
See you tomorrow on air and online, and remember we’ll have a running synopsis of the SOAR proceedings on this blog and on Twitter.