The holiday season is such a special time in Appalachia Kentucky.  Gatherings with family and friends, the smell of apple cider and hot chocolate, warm cookies, candies and treats passed down from generations, it is truly a time to be thankful and reflect on the things in life that matter most – our faith, family, friends, and all that makes Appalachia Kentucky home.

Christmas is particularly special for me and my family (my wife, Bethany, and daughter, Rosiland) as we prepare to spend our first Christmas with our newborn, Harker Jax, who we welcomed on November 17. 

From a professional standpoint, it is also a time of reflection and gratitude.  Five years ago, the idea of SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) took root as a collaborative effort to address the challenges facing Appalachia Kentucky.  SOAR was created as an organization to address challenges and identify opportunities using the ingenuity and capacity of the people, businesses, and organizations in the region.

There have been many plans to “fix” Appalachia, specifically Central Appalachia, and while the plans were developed with good intentions, it created the ideology that our challenges were others to solve. 

Through SOAR, we acknowledged the challenges, we built a network of partners and stakeholders that represented all aspects of our region, we shared ideas, we blurred county and municipal lines, and we discovered opportunities to collaborate, to innovate, and to transform Appalachia Kentucky.

A Regional Blueprint for a 21st Century Appalachia was established.  This plan of action was developed for the people of Appalachia Kentucky by the people of Appalachia Kentucky.  Our blueprint provided basic structure and a plan for leveraging connectivity to disrupt pervasive poverty.

It is happening.  More than 1,700 people in Appalachia Kentucky are working remotely through the work of Teleworks USA and the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP).  Digital Careers Now, a consortium consisting of Big Sandy, Hazard and Southeast Kentucky community and technical colleges, SOAR, and EKCEP, have partnered with companies like GDIT to bring 100 remote work opportunities through innovation hubs in Cumberland and Hazard.  This investment alone represents approximately $1 million for each community.

As we move closer to Christmas and the new year, I hope you are encouraged and inspired by the remarkable things happening across Appalachia Kentucky.  We’ve made significant progress, but there’s still much work to do.  Through our network of partners and stakeholders, we are drafting a new narrative for Appalachia Kentucky.  This narrative is one that frames our region as a hub for innovation and collaboration and celebrates the ingenuity of the people who call our mountains home.  We are building a 21st Century Appalachia. Together.

If you would like to learn more about our work and becoming a partner or stakeholder in our work, please feel free to contact us at or by calling us at (606) 766-1160.  You can also learn more by visiting

I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas full of joy and cherished memories, and a new year of boundless opportunities.

– Jared Arnett is Executive Director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR)