SLADE – The issue-oriented advisory council for the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative held its first meeting Monday at Natural Bridge State Park and collectively decided that each of its issue groups should focus on how it could contribute to bringing more jobs to the Kentucky’s 54 Appalachian counties.
“What resonates and what everyone is in agreement with is the jobs,” SOAR Executive Director Jared Arnett said. “That is what they think SOAR is, is creating jobs and economic opportunity and that (is the) expectation… . So at the end of the day, jobs is the goal, and everything else is how do we support that goal.”
SOAR is a bipartisan effort to lift Appalachian Kentucky’s economy. The nonprofit organization was created last year by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican 5th District U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers of Somerset.
Arnett noted that SOAR is not the first group, nor the only group, to work toward improving the quality of life in Appalachia, but said that it is an organization that could serve as the connector of these groups.
“SOAR is not just an economic development organization, it is a change agent that connects all of these groups to get the work done,” Arnett said. “Part of it is resources, but I think the bigger piece of it is connections.”
The Advisory Council is scheduled to meet quarterly to discuss opportunities and challenges in the region; to make sure each of the groups are working in a spirit of collaboration and communication; and to offer advice to the executive board of directors.
The original working groups are: Agriculture, Community & Regional Foods; Broadband; Business Incubation; Business Recruitment; Education and Retraining; Health; Infrastructure; Leadership Development & Youth Engagement; Regional Collaboration & Identity; and Tourism, including Natural Resources, Arts & Heritage. Arnett referred to them as focus groups, no longer working groups.