Make no mistake — 2023 will be a pivotal year in determining the future of our region.

Of course, each of the last few years has been, in their own ways, a game-changer for our world. But I really believe that, with the advent of 2023, our communities in Eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia are coming to a crossroads. One path holds a brighter future for us and our descendants. The other promises only stagnation and the continued loss of people to other communities, where they can thrive, not just survive.

So what’s the brighter path look like?

Unfortunately, the word “progress” has become hijacked by some who use the term as a code word for a philosophy and worldview that is focused on the destruction of the “old order” and traditional ways of living. Creation, not destruction, should be the focus.

The common goal should be for prosperity and stability for our region. We should be working toward and striving for economic diversification, the establishment of new economic drivers and strengthening of old and a focus on the ties that bind us here, instead of on our differences.

There’s a lot of pitfalls possible.

There are those who are all-too-eager to take advantage of our discontent.

While not offering answers or solutions, they’re certainly ready to stir the pot and point out the other guy’s faults. Some are even willing to run for office with no real desire to serve, but an ability to capitalize on how dissatisfied we all are.

Heck yeah, you have right to be upset with the way things are going, particularly at the federal level, but at all levels, honestly.

Please remember, however, just because someone offers alternative to the “other guy” doesn’t guarantee that they offer a better path, a solution.

Also, none of this is happening in a vacuum. Just this past weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal featured, at the top of the front page, the headline “Stocks log worst year since 2008.” Yes, that 2008. Whether we will enter into a repeat of the “Great Recession” remains to be seen, but this isn’t an easy time to be attempting to shore up local economic fortunes.

That, again, points to the need for real leadership. The leaders we have must step up their efforts beyond what they ever imagined possible. Those in leadership who don’t have the intestinal fortitude to do what needs to be done must step out of the way. There’s no other way. If they can’t do what needs to be done, they must leave.

Another pitfall we must overcome is the tendency to drown everything in cynicism. We have more than ample reason in our history to be cautious, to be skeptical, but sometimes we fall into the trap of being cautious to the point of being dismissive of … well … everything, honestly.

Skepticism can be a tool when used properly, as it can lead us to make good choices. Uncontrolled, however, it becomes a driver of division and prevents us from taking advantage of true opportunities.

Listen, none of this is going to be easy to navigate. It’s going to take work and it’s going to take persistence. The coming days and months, however, are pivotal to ensuring those efforts have a chance to bring lasting and positive change.

I pray that, in the first days of 2024, we have an opportunity to look back on the previous 12 months with pride as we see the fruition of the promise that our region holds and which has inspired so many to work for a better tomorrow for our people.

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