SOAR Initiative Working Groups to Meet at Annual East Kentucky Leadership Conference Next Week; Public Invited to Join

SOMERSET, Ky. (April 16, 2014) – As the work of the “Shaping Our Appalachian Region”, or SOAR, initiative moves forward, citizens are invited to attend next week’s annual East Kentucky Leadership Conference in Somerset to take part in one of ten SOAR working groups.

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This conference will mark the first formal meetings of these working groups, which are tasked with leading large-scale discussions throughout southern and eastern Kentucky on topics related to the region’s economic future and quality of life. These ‘listening sessions’ – to take place in the spring and summer of 2014 – will be open to businesses, local governments, organizations, and all interested citizens. The information collected during these sessions will be translated into detailed strategies for moving the region forward. Together, the strategies will compose the SOAR program of work to be presented at a regional summit in November.

“The SOAR working groups are our boots on the ground in this effort to revitalize and shape the future we want to enjoy in eastern Kentucky,” said Congressman Hal Rogers. “If your passion and expertise is tourism, we need your talents in that working group. If you are skilled in economic development or education, we need you to share your wisdom with those groups. We are calling on individuals from across the region who are ready to take action to help lead this initiative forward.”

“Since our huge SOAR launch in December, we have worked to maintain the momentum and interest we have seen in helping this region grow and thrive,” said Governor Steve Beshear. “These ten working groups will continue to gather information and ideas, meeting with the citizens of the region over the coming months to make sure our combined efforts truly reflect the desires and recommendations of the people who live here. We cannot waste a moment, and I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the well-being of this vital region to join us in Somerset for these first meetings.”

Anyone can attend the working group meetings at no cost. While a few of the working groups have already met their capacity for formal membership, all meetings will be public and citizens are invited to attend those meetings. Working group meetings will be held on Thursday, April 24 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

SOAR working groups and their chairs include:

· Agriculture/Community/Regional Foods: Daniel Wilson, Wolfe County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources

· Broadband: Lonnie Lawson, Somerset, president and CEO, The Center for Rural Development

· Business Recruitment: Brad Hall, external affairs manager, AEP Kentucky Power Company; and Rodney Hitch, economic development manager, East Kentucky Power.

· Business Incubation: Jared Arnett, Pikeville, president and CEO, Southeast Kentucky Chamber of Commerce

· Education and Retraining: Jeff Whitehead, Hazard, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program

· Health: Dr. Nikki Stone, Hazard, dental director/faculty, UK June Buchanan Clinic

· Infrastructure: Jack Sykes, Pikeville, chairman of the board, Summit Engineering

· Leadership Development and Youth Engagement: Jonathan Gay, Morehead, executive director of Morehead State University Innovation and Commercialization Center

· Regional Collaboration and Identity: Sandy Runyon, Prestonsburg, executive director of the Big Sandy Area Development District

· Tourism, including Natural Resources, Arts & Heritage: Phil Osborne, Lexington, president of Osborne and Associates

How to Participate in the Working Groups

The working groups are open to businesses, local governments, organizations, and all interested citizens. The information collected during these sessions will be translated into detailed strategies for moving the region forward. Together, the strategies will compose the SOAR program of work to be presented at a regional summit in November 2014.

Although participation in the working groups is free, you MUST register to attend. Please visit http://crdev.us/P3KykN to register.

For more information about the working groups or to inquire about membership, contact the SOAR office at 606-444-5127 or 606-437-5127.

About the East Kentucky Leadership Conference

In addition to the SOAR meetings at The Center, individuals are also invited to register and attend the East Kentucky Leadership Conference (EKLC).

The two-day statewide conference will be held April 24-25 at The Center for Rural Development in Somerset. The Conference is designed to bring together leaders and community members from all walks of life and throughout eastern Kentucky to discuss issues important to the region, share ideas and devise solutions to problems that have kept the region from reaching its fullest potential.

The conference theme, “Transforming Crisis into Opportunity”, will build upon the SOAR initiative, and will offer participants a unique opportunity to discover and develop creative solutions to problems in the region.

This year, the conference features guest speakers including Congressman Hal Rogers, Governor Steve Beshear, and David C. Wilhelm, Chief Strategy Officer at Hecate Energy. Conference sessions will focus on entrepreneurship, youth engagement, work ready communities, tourism, K12 education, next generation technology and more.

The cost to attend the conference is $30 for registration prior to April 18th, and $35 after that. Register online by visiting http://www.eklf.org/ or call The Center at 606-677-6000.

About the SOAR initiative

The SOAR initiative was launched by Gov. Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers late last year, after a stunning downturn in the coal market exacerbated historic challenges in Eastern Kentucky related to unemployment and poverty. More than 1,700 Kentuckians attended a one-day SOAR summit in Pikeville in December. SOAR is intended to help the region develop and put into action new locally-oriented strategies to attack those persistent challenges.

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