Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR)

Behind the scenes as SOAR prepares for its online conference with partner at Coalfields Industrial Park in Perry County, Kentucky.

In 2013, with ARC support, SOAR (Shaping our Appalachian Region) was established as a community based collaborative effort to embrace new ideas, leverage resources, and build capacity in eastern Kentucky. Headquartered in Pikeville, SOAR draws on the ideas and input from a robust network across the area by bringing together partners from every sector across the region to create jobs, expand opportunities, improve the quality of life, and attract additional investors. SOAR is committed to expanding job creation, enhancing regional opportunity, innovation, and identity, improving the quality of life, and supporting those working to achieve similar goals in Eastern Kentucky, through collaboration.

SOAR is a model for strengthening community economic development capacity in the Appalachian Region. Their initial convening in December of 2013 attracted more than 1,500 people from across eastern Kentucky. Ten working groups were charged with taking the ideas from the convening and engaging the region in deeper discussions about the challenges and opportunities in areas such as business incubation, broadband development, and regional collaboration and identity. Acting on one working-group recommendation, Governor Beshear and Congressman Rogers announced, in August 2015, the launch of the first phase of the Kentucky Wired I-Way broadband network—a statewide system that began in eastern Kentucky and spread across the state, helping reduce barriers to education and economic development by providing affordable, high-quality Internet service.

On October 29, 2020 ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas joined U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers and Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear in Pikeville, Kentucky to kickoff Shaping Our Appalachian Region’s (SOAR) 2020 Annual Summit. Following local guidance, there were only a few dozen people on site. Yet, over 800 people participated online from across the Region to learn more about SOAR’s regional partnerships and leadership in expanding broadband, tourism, agriculture, healthcare, entrepreneurship, and other economic opportunities in Appalachian Kentucky.

During their Summit remarks, Governor Beshear and Federal Co-Chairman Thomas celebrated that ARC’s $36.5 million investments in Kentucky during fiscal year 2020 are ARC’s largest investment in a single state during a single fiscal year in decades. ARC’s support for the SOAR initiative in eastern Kentucky shows the power of leveraging ARC’s resources with forward-thinking leadership, financial support from other regional and public partners, and the energy and innovation of local residents. A key partner on many ARC-funded projects–in 2019 alone, partnerships and opportunities facilitated by SOAR leveraged nearly $52 million in federal investments in the area.