2017 SOAR summit will focus on moving its blueprint forward

08/03/2017 01:38 PM

On Friday more than 1,000 people are expected to pour into Pikeville for the Shaping Our Appalachian Region 2017 summit.

Over the past 12 months SOAR has finalized its regional blueprint for a 21st Century Appalachia. That blueprint will be the focus of this year’s summit.

“We’re showcasing progress — we’re going to cast a vision for where we’re headed,” SOAR executive director Jared Arnett said in a phone interview.

SOAR is seeking to add partners and propel the blueprint forward over the next 12 months. The blueprint itself is 20 pages total with seven goals, including broadband access in the eastern Kentucky region.

“We really believe (broadband) is critical in the future of economic development in the region because it breaks down all of the geographic barriers,” Arnett said. “It brings new opportunities to new entrepreneurs, to workforce development, to healthcare opportunities through telemedicine — we think it’s a pivotal point of discussion.”

Arnett predicts part of the discussion will focus on how to leverage broadband access to grow a rural community as well as workforce training opportunities, healthy communities, regional foods, tourism and development opportunities within the aerospace industry.

Gov. Matt Bevin, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, John Stephenson from Amazon and University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari will be among the featured speakers at the summit.

As the conversation takes place in eastern Kentucky, many politicians will be heading to western Kentucky for the annual Fancy Farm picnic, something Arnett said occurred by happenstance.

“Our event, you know, we try to focus less on policy and more on people,” he said. “There’s been a lot of talk about policy and how to fix eastern Kentucky, when really if we start at the grassroots and build up to our communities that’s really the key.”

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