The urgency for hope has never been greater for southern and eastern Kentucky.
Over the last month, some 600 coal miners have been sent home – laid off or furloughed from high paying jobs in our mountains. It’s the most recent painstaking round of pink slips added to the region’s loss of over 6,000 coal mining jobs since 2011. Even more, economists estimate each coal mining job impacts three more local jobs. Simply put, mechanics, cooks, and truck drivers are looking for work too. And when a coal miner doesn’t get paid, his truck doesn’t get gas, his grocery list gets shorter, and trips to the shopping malls and cinemas in Lexington and Louisville are cut out of the budget. The entire Commonwealth needs to understand what is happening in eastern Kentucky right now, because this coal downturn will affect every community with higher energy bills and reduced opportunity.
I’m frustrated. I’m heartbroken. Yet I’m determined, because I know the tenacity of our people. I know we can pull together, retrain, retool, and refocus to tackle this great challenge.
It’s the blood and sweat of our coal miners, who for decades have gone miles underground, seven days a week, to industrialize America. I’m confident that it’s the same courage and perseverance that will pipe energy through the veins of this region for an economic revival. Make no mistake, we have a long road ahead, but I am optimistic that there are victories within our grasp.
That’s why Governor Steve Beshear and I have teamed up to launch a new initiative we call SOAR – ‘Shaping Our Appalachian Region.’ We may be an unlikely duo, but we are united in kick-starting an economic recovery in hardest-hit eastern Kentucky. On December 9th, we begin this initiative with the SOAR Summit at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville. It’s free and open to the public.
The Governor and I don’t intend on being the star players of this initiative. We prefer assistant coach-status, offering guidance, encouragement, and providing specialized support to help marshal federal and state resources for an unprecedented grassroots victory.
Already, rising stars and community leaders who have invested their lives into our region are joining the team. Governor Beshear and I brought together an initial planning committee, of about 40 folks who have been in the trenches creating jobs, building infrastructure, investing in young people, and finding a way to improve our region thus far. The people who ultimately drive the SOAR initiative will be new age pioneers. They will be just as important to the future of our region as Daniel Boone was to exploring our land.
I want to encourage the people of southern and eastern Kentucky to participate in the SOAR Summit. We will have idea kiosks throughout the Expo Center to ensure every voice is heard. For those who can’t make it to Pikeville, please submit your ideas on the SOAR Facebook and Twitter pages. To reserve your free spot at the summit, visit kydlgweb.ky.gov or call the Kentucky Department for Local Government at 502-573-2382.
I look forward to continuing to work together to solve our challenges.