|Appalachian Regional Commission annual map (click on it to enlarge)|
The ARC report estimates that Eastern Kentucky would need to add 30,000 jobs to stabilize the local economy. Estep highlighted it in his coverage of the non-partisan economic development agency Shaping Our Appalachian Region's annual summit Aug. 4 in Pikeville. Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who has long represented most of Appalachian Kentucky, told Estep, "It's a huge challenge." Rogers and then-Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, set up SOAR in 2013 to find ways to diversify the economy in response to coal's swoon. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin co-chairs SOAR with Rogers.
Some ideas proposed at the annual summit were aimed at "training workers; creating and expanding small businesses; improving health in a region beset by high rates of diabetes, heart disease and other problems; boosting industrial employment; creating a local-foods movement; and establishing the state’s Appalachian region as a tourism destination," Estep reports. Here are some examples:
- A huge greenhouse on a reclaimed surface mine in Pike County. AppHarvest head Jonathan Webb says his goal is to produce the first tomato crop in the fall of 2018. The state has approved up to $2.5 million in incentives for the project, would could create 140 jobs.
- More than 1,000 jobs have been created since 2015 through Teleworks USA, an initiative that lets people answer customer service calls from home or a local hub.
- KentuckyWired, a project to build a high-speed internet network across Kentucky. "The project will provide an access point to broadband in each county,
but other providers will have to extend the service to individual homes
and businesses — what's called “last mile” service," Estep reports. The project is a key effort for SOAR, but has run into delays, such as agreements to use utility poles.