Ralph B. Davis
PIKEVILLE — Crowds of concerned citizens joined local, state and federal officials to flood the East Kentucky Expo Center Monday morning, as the Shaping Our Appalachian Region economic summit got underway.
But even as the event got started, there were indications of a long road ahead.
“This is not the last meeting,” U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said during his opening remarks. “This is the first meeting.”
The SOAR summit is joint, bipartisan effort between Rogers and Gov. Steve Beshear to bring together Eastern Kentuckians from all walks of life to help craft a plan for improving the region’s economy in the wake of continuing declines in the coal industry. Prior to the event, over 1,700 registered to attend, and more showed up Monday morning.
Rogers told the crowd the point of SOAR was not to reinvent the wheel, but rather to get to work on implementing the results of past studies that show the road to success.
“We are not here to have another study,” Rogers said to applause. “We are here to get to work on the plan.”
Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin — the only one of the three major candidates in next year’s race to attend — said he was thought the event was going well and represented “everything I had hoped it could be.” However, he said he had some advice to the many government leaders in attendance — listen to the people and get out of their way.
“Thomas Edison said a lot of times opportunity isn’t recognized, because it shows up in overalls and looking like hard work,” Bevin said.
State House Speaker Greg Stumbo said in his opening remarks that, while the challenges facing Eastern Kentucky are tough, he believes the answers to those challenges are in the mountains.
“There is nothing wrong in Eastern Kentucky that cannot be fixed by what is right in Eastern Kentucky,” Stumbo said.
The event, which was to carry on throughout the day, was scheduled to break into individual panels on job creation and retention, entreprenuership and innovation, infrastructure, public and private investment, tourism, regional collaboration and identity, leadership development and youth engagement, lifelong learning, and health, biotechnology and human services after lunch, before reconvening in general session later in the day.