Two agencies decided to make investments into the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) initiative during a committee meeting at Pine Mountain State Park on Monday.
Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, announced an investment of $312,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to provide technical assistance in the formation and implementation for the SOAR initiative for job creation and private sector growth in the region.
“EDA is pleased to support the collaborative SOAR initiative,” said Williams. “This vital EDA assistance will help SOAR in its mission to help eastern Kentucky capitalize on its strengths to diversify, innovate and implement job-creating diversification strategies.”
The EDA investment will support implementation and technical assistance by a consortium of nine Area Development Districts located in the region.
Williams, who is the former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, explained his former city also went through economic downfalls. Williams said he experienced a similar situation in Youngstown as the Appalachian region is currently encountering.
When steel mills in the area of Youngstown closed, their economy started decreasing. From 1950 to 2000 the population decreased 58 percent and vacant land increased 12 percent.
Williams’ experience in Youngstown is what brought him to speak at the SOAR meeting.
Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), announced an investment of more than $1 million to engage 52 full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to improve the economy and quality of life in eastern Kentucky.
Through this investment, AmeriCorps VISTA members will provide more than 100,000 volunteer hours to eastern Kentucky families and individuals in the areas of job creation and retention, youth engagement, education success and health and human services over the next year. The VISTAs will recruit and manage volunteers, raise funds and build the capacity of 16 local nonprofit and education organizations that tackle poverty and expand opportunity in Kentucky’s Appalachian region.
“SOAR is a bold and innovative effort to improve the lives of the people of eastern Kentucky, and we are thrilled to join with Congressman (Harold) Rogers and Gov. (Steve) Beshear in advancing this important goal through this major investment of human capital through AmeriCorps,” said Spencer. “AmeriCorps members are passionate, dedicated citizens who give a year of their lives to service, and we know they will make a big difference for eastern Kentucky.”
Beshear announced he will promote eastern Kentucky during his upcoming attendance at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Opportunity Investment Conference in Washington, D.C. on July 24. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack created a new export and investment initiative called “Made in Rural America” to help propel the growth of small businesses across rural America.
“My time in D.C. is an opportunity to talk about SOAR and how we are using public-private partnerships to change the course of this rural region,” Beshear said. “The audience will include up to 500 movers and shakers, including major investors, rural business leaders, government officials, economic development experts and other partners. This is a great opportunity to not only spread the word about SOAR but also to plant seeds that, hopefully, lead to future investments.”
Rogers announced SOAR will host a “Health Impact Series” in August featuring Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The tour marks the first time that the director of the CDC has visited eastern Kentucky.
“Our people have long suffered from high rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other health disparities, so Dr. Frieden decided to make a house call to eastern Kentucky,” said Rogers. “This is a rare chance to bring a world-renown leader in health care to our doorstep. We will look to Dr. Frieden for help in diagnosing our high risks, as well as his prescription for how we can improve healthy living and morality rates.”