PIKEVILLE — So many want it to work.
Many are excited, hopeful. Others want to be hopeful but feel like they’ve had hopes dashed in the past.
More than 1,700 gathered here Monday for the Shaping Our Appalachian Region – SOAR – Summit, convened by Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers. Both repeatedly emphasized the day-long brainstorming session “is just a beginning” and there “are no silver bullets” to solve the region’s desperate economic and employment picture.
Beshear said he thinks the people of the region “feel a sense of urgency” and are ready to work cooperatively and regionally.
“The congressman and I are committed to the long haul,” Beshear said. “We’re also committed to some big, broad issues.”
Indeed, the “big ideas” of the day seemed to be the establishment of a regional economic development fund, modeled on one in the iron mining region of Minnesota; creation of a reliable, high-speed broadband Internet network; and expanding to four lanes the entirety of the Mountain Parkway. The parkway is four lanes from Winchester to Campton but then splits into two separate two lane highways, one toward Prestonsburg and Pikeville, the other toward Hazard.
When the long day ended, Beshear said he planned to seek funding in the next state budget for the administrative costs of a continuing planning group for eastern Kentucky and various “projects,” including for the Mountain Parkway.
Rogers said he expects the ideas gathered at Monday’s summit to be used by the 41-person planning committee to issue reports and another meeting like Monday’s is likely in the future.
He also made clear he wants to turn the region into an area of new, Internet-based jobs, calling it the ideal “Silicon Holler.”
“The governor and I see foresee a major broadband highway stretching across this region and connecting to the national grid,” Rogers said.