Monday, March 24, 2014

E. Ky. economic effort announces structure, plan; draws criticism for 'Old Guard' dominance

The bipartisan effort to reshape the economy of Eastern Kentucky, hit hard by coal-industry layoffs, now has an executive committee, managers, an office and a nine-month action plan that won't gather dust on shelves, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican 5th District U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced Monday at Hazard.

"We have the elements to make it an ongoing, transformational process for Kentucky's Appalachian region," Beshear said of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative. For a video of the event, click here. The 15-member executive committee includes Tom Hunter, former executive director of the Appalachian Regional Commission. He told the crowd, "We wouldn't have an Appalachian Regional Commission without Hal Rogers," who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Charles W. Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, will serve as SOAR's interim executive director while the executive committee searches for a permanent executive director. The on-site managing director will be Donovan Blackburn, city manager of Pikeville, where a SOAR office has been established. Rogers called him "the most forward-looking person I know in Eastern Kentucky."

Rogers said the key to the next few months will be working groups that will hold "listening sessions" on 10 issues, aiming toward a second regional summit in November. Former Gov. Paul Patton of Pikeville will chair a "Futures Forum" to frame and advance a long-term vision for the region. Rogers said the effort will also need money, and that will be up to a development committee headed by Pikeville banker Jean Hale, who told the crowd, "Kentucky needs to understand that it needs Eastern Kentucky for its success."

UPDATES, March 25: The selections got a mostly negative review from Tom Eblen, columnist and former managing editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader. He said Fluharty's role is unclear, and "The list raised eyebrows not so much because of who was included as who was excluded, which was pretty much everybody outside Eastern Kentucky's establishment power structure," such as staff of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, "which has been working on innovative economic development strategies in Central Appalachia since 1976," and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and environmental and social-justice group that "has been working effectively in coal-dominated Eastern Kentucky since 1981." He concluded, "If they want new ideas and the broad public support and credibility SOAR needs to succeed, they must be willing to give some seats at the decision-making table to people besides Eastern Kentucky's Old Guard. Otherwise, SOAR won't be any different than the failed efforts of the past."

Meanwhile, Rogers cited SOAR and mentioned "the great strides that we’ve made over the last three decades in education, healthcare and job creation" in a response to a National Journal article noting that his district ranked last in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

No comments: