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SOAR Committee Holds Initial Meeting In Hazard Monday

Hoping to capitalize on the momentum of the recent SOAR summit, a committee of 15 area political and business leaders met in Hazard on Monday morning.

The group co-chaired by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and 5th District Congressman Hal Rogers, will be responsible for implementing the workable ideas that came out of the recent SOAR summit on Eastern Kentucky.

"We know that we are asking a great deal from these leaders and in turn we are also asking the citizens of eastern Kentucky to stay engaged and to stay energized because SOAR is just getting started," the governor told reporters.

One of the panel members representing the private sector is Jean Hale, a Pikeville resident and president and CEO of Community Trust Bank.

"It's my home town.  I chose to be in Eastern Kentucky, my commitment and my passion is for Eastern Kentucky, but I also know that I have to communicate to the rest of the world that we are a vital part of the state of Kentucky and we can contribute significantly and succeed," Hale said.

The governor added that unlike previous efforts to solve the challenges of Eastern Kentucky, SOAR will rely primarily on the ideas and energy of the people who live and work there.  The group will conduct a search for a permanent executive director who will then be responsible for putting together a second SOAR summit sometime in November. 

Following Monday's meeting the group also announced the formation of  10 working groups to conduct listening sessions on things like agriculture, broadband, business recruiting, education, job training and health.

In addition to Beshear and Rogers, 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.
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.