Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beshear, Rogers Announce Organizational Structure and Action Plan for SOAR Initiative

A diverse group of eastern Kentucky citizens will form the executive leadership structure of the Shaping our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative, Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers announced yesterday.

The 15-member executive committee, co-chaired by Gov. Beshear and Rep. Rogers, held its first meeting today in Hazard. The group developed a nine-month action plan to guide them as the initiative seeks continued conversations and deeper outreach throughout Kentucky’s Appalachian counties, which will culminate in a second regional summit in late fall 2014.

The executive committee will oversee design, execution, and funding of SOAR activities and will conduct the search for a permanent executive director.

Chuck Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, will serve as interim executive director of the SOAR initiative until a permanent executive director is named. Fluharty provided assistance to the SOAR Summit planning committee in designing the December 2013 event and has continued to work with Gov. Beshear and Rep. Rogers in planning follow-up strategies.
The executive committee will provide interim governance for the initiative until a permanent structure is established. Donovan Blackburn, Pikeville’s city manager, will serve as managing director. A SOAR office has also been established in Pikeville.

The executive committee includes:

• Bruce Ayers, Cumberland, president emeritus, Southeast Community and Technical College
• Jim Booth, Inez, CEO of Booth Energy
• Jean Hale, Pikeville; chair, president and CEO of Community Trust Bank
• Rodney Hitch, Winchester, economic development manager for East Kentucky Power
• Jim Host, Lexington
• Tom Hunter, Washington, D.C., retired executive director, Appalachian Regional Commission
• Kim McCann, Ashland, partner/attorney with VanAntwerp, Monge, Jones, Edwards & McCann
• Hayley McCoy, Jackson, economic development advocate with Jackson Energy
• Bob Mitchell, Corbin, board of directors for The Center for Rural Development and retired chief of staff for Rep. Hal Rogers
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Senate President Robert Stivers, Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock, and Magoffin County Judge-Executive Charles “Doc” Hardin will serve as ex officio members representing state and local government.

Ten working groups will be responsible for leading discussions throughout the region on topics related to eastern Kentucky’s future economic well-being and quality of life. Based on citizen and organizational input, the groups will identify significant opportunities and a long-term vision related to their topics.

The working groups’ focus areas and 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: Greg Jones, Somerset, special project director, Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corp.
• 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

Membership of the working groups will be open to anyone interested in participating; contact the SOAR office at 606-444-5127 or 606-437-5127 for more information.

The Futures Forum, to be chaired by former Governor Paul Patton, will focus on long-term strategies to improve the region. Members of this group will work with the executive committee and work groups to translate immediate and ongoing efforts into future strategies. The Futures Forum will also develop a SOAR 2025 Vision to be presented to the region in a spring 2015 SOAR Futures Forum.