SOAR is a network of our Appalachia that unites 54 counties worth of talent enabling us to shape our own future. So the question really is not what is Shaping our Appalachian Region, but who?
SOAR’s mission is to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation, and identity, improve the quality of life, and support all those working to achieve these goals in Appalachian Kentucky.
An Appalachian Kentucky engaged in a landscape-changing enterprise: shaped by a shared and envisioned future, driven by innovation, entrepreneurship, and a commitment to common purpose, with improved education, health, and economic outcomes, and expanding opportunities, for all our region’s citizens.
SOAR is a widely-shared enterprise. Our commitment to build greater prosperity, resilience, and equity in the region is posited upon a belief that support for, and strengthened partnerships among, those already working to achieve these goals is the wisest course. Our trust rests in the region’s greatest assets, upon which this future will be built: its people, places, and heritage, and in these mountains we call home.
How can I be a part of SOAR?
Are you working in your community to help provide a better future? If so you already are a part of SOAR and you are what we like to call a "Shaper." We will be unveiling SOAR.network later this year to formally connect you with other shapers.
SOAR is us, the people working to make a better future for our region. It is You and the work you are doing to shape your own future.
Serving Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District since 1981, Hal Rogers is currently in his 17th term representing the people of southern and eastern Kentucky, and is the longest serving Kentucky Republican ever elected to federal office. Focused on economic development, job creation, fighting illegal drug use and preserving the natural treasures of Appalachia, Rogers has a reputation for listening to his constituents and fighting for the interests of the region where he was raised. Nationally, as Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, his focus is on reducing the size and scope of the government by reining in federal spending, conducting rigorous but thoughtful oversight of federal agencies, and restoring fiscal discipline and transparency to our budget process. Born in rural Kentucky and representing one of the poorest Congressional Districts in the nation, Rogers’ vision for a stronger region spurred some of the greatest success stories in southern and eastern Kentucky. Organizations such asPRIDE, Operation UNITE, Southeast Kentucky Economic Development (SKED), TOUR Southern and Eastern Kentucky (TOUR SEKY), and The Center for Rural Development have brought local communities together by revitalizing the environment, providing hope in the fight against drugs, building small businesses, and creating jobs by increasing tourism in one of the most beautiful regions of the country.
Matt Bevin was elected Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 2015. He is a husband, a father of nine children, a veteran and a small business owner.
Gov. Bevin grew up in an old farmhouse where his family raised both crops and animals. His family of eight shared three bedrooms and one bathroom. It was a financially humble home but he was raised with a strong work ethic and solid Christian values.
He attended Washington and Lee University, in Virginia, on an ROTC scholarship and upon graduation served Active Duty as a US Army officer.
After his military service, Gov. Bevin worked for many years in the financial industry. A job opportunity brought Gov. Bevin and his wife, Glenna, a registered nurse, to Kentucky 17 years ago, when they decided to put down roots and raise their family.
Gov. Bevin has founded several companies in Kentucky and invested in a number of others in the Commonwealth and around the United States. He has managed and expanded multiple businesses, creating many good paying jobs for hard working Americans. These companies range from manufacturing to investment management to medical devices.
In 2011, Gov. Bevin also became the sixth generation President of Bevin Bros., a small bell manufacturing company that began in 1832. He makes all the bells used by the Salvation Army volunteers each year. The company was bankrupt when Matt took over and he saved more than 25 jobs.
Gov. Bevin has served on many non-profit boards, including Chairman of the Board for the American Red Cross, Louisville Area Chapter. He has permanently endowed several scholarship funds, grants, and centers that provide educational opportunities for young people with limited financial resources.
Governor Matt Bevin
In early fall of 2013, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Kentucky 5th District Congressman Hal Rogers began discussing the possibility of collaborating, across political party lines, to create an initiative to address the challenges facing Eastern Kentucky. They specifically were not interested in yet another of the serial task forces, blue ribbon panels or commissions, which have analyzed and strategized over this region for half a century. Rather, they were considering an event or initiative that might enable the region to reassess its current challenges, and discuss ideas or innovations already underway which could be leveraged or aligned to capture emergent regional development opportunities. But above all else, they hoped to create a neutral venue for the region’s organizations, institutions, businesses, leaders, and citizens to discuss a new beginning, hope, vision, and collaboration.
Well aware of the prolonged difficulties facing the region including the hardships resulting from restructuring in the coal industry, as well as the regional, state, and local economies, they believed the region was at a “tipping point” and that people were ready, willing, and able to begin an honest dialogue regarding the future they face, and what would be necessary to not simply accept the one to come, but to envision and work together to create a more hopeful alternative.
This was driven by both the urgency of the moment, and a growing realization that with the federal footprint lightening, and national and state governments both in severe budgetary retrenchment, old approaches were no longer possible, even if they had worked. A new framework for the region’s future was essential.
This realization was not unique to these leaders, or Eastern Kentucky. In fact, all developed nations now realize that regions-both urban and rural-are the drivers of domestic GDP. What was unique was that Governor Beshear and Congressman Rogers had the vision and courage to step forward together, announce their common commitment to a new vision for Eastern Kentucky, and then ask the region to convene and begin creation of such a framework.
Consequently, in Hazard on October 28, 2013, they were joined by a diverse group of 35 regional citizens, charged by them with the design, development, and execution of this regional dialogue. That Planning Committee quickly grew to nearly 50, as interest and excitement with this idea spread across Eastern Kentucky. As Governor Beshear stated at this original press conference, “Eastern Kentucky is a brilliant, storied region that enriches the fabric of our Commonwealth, yet for several decades, the region has seen a decline in growth and development, hampered by a lack of infrastructure and other resources that communities need to grow and thrive. We know that government alone cannot solve these problems, that is why Congressman Rogers and I are launching this Summit – we believe that to make real progress in Eastern Kentucky, we need the input, collaboration and involvement of the people who live and work hard there every day.”
“We are in unchartered waters in southern and eastern Kentucky, where the future of coal faces new regulatory challenges and economic uncertainty is daunting for our small communities,” said Congressman Rogers. “But time and again, the people of our region have proven to be resilient,…I am confident that together, we will rise above these new challenges we face. We will overcome!”
Senate President Robert Stivers added, “Re-energizing the economy of Eastern Kentucky is going to require thinking ‘outside the box.’ I believe this is a tremendous step in that direction.” House Speaker Greg Stumbo followed, “I believe this summit will prove to be a welcome guide for the direction our region needs to take…I cannot think of a more pressing issue affecting the Commonwealth.”
A SOAR Summit was announced, to be convened in Pikeville, on December 9. Also at this time, theRural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) agreed to assist the principals, their staffs, and the Planning Committee, to support Summit activities. In the ensuing weeks, multiple meetings and conference calls were held, as well as two additional Planning Committee meetings.
As word of the Summit spread, initial resistance and cynicism in the region turned to fascination, and then engagement. Registration slowly grew, and then exploded. Venues were changed, resources deepened, and the Appalachian Regional Commission and USDA Rural Development, among others, offered agency support. Regional and national press began to discuss this unique approach, and eventually, the 250 folks for whom sponsors originally hoped grew exponentially, first to 500, then 750, 1,000, and ultimately 1,500 and beyond. All this occurred in six weeks.
While this clearly was proof of registration, it was not yet proof of concept or relevance. But everyone sensed that something unique was emerging, particularly the people of Eastern Kentucky. Still, even the morning of the Summit, no one knew for sure who would attend, how many, what the tenor of the dialogue would be, or whether anything of specific substance would emerge.