2017 SOAR Summit: We must forward together

The 2017 SOAR Summit is in the books, and what a great day it was to celebrate our accomplishments and lay out a regional blueprint to create a 21st Century Appalachia.

So, where do we go from here?

Forward.  Together, unified in passion and driven by purpose. It’s time to build a Connected Appalachia.

The new narrative of Appalachia Kentucky is being written, and it has many authors.  It’s you, it’s me, it’s business and industry, it’s educational partners, and it’s non-profit and faith-based organizations.

What we learned at this year’s Summit is that the tide is turning.  We learned that we are not just talking innovation, we are working within the realms of innovation to transform communities and the lives of countless people in our 54 counties.

We heard of the success of Teleworks USA and its approach to developing a highly-skilled remote workforce in Appalachia Kentucky.  Teleworks USA, through its partnership with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) recently completed a training for SalesForce certifications in which all those who earned their credential found employment.

We met Tim Robinson, of Addiction Recovery Care, and heard his story of turning faith into action, providing hope through a network of in-patient and out-patient addiction centers.  We learned of ways that Robinson is providing training to those in treatment and his work to transition his clients into gainful employment upon completion of treatment.

It’s about specifically and intentionally teaching 21st Century skills.  It’s about believing and developing the infrastructure to work and thrive in a global, information-driven economy. It’s about Appalachia Kentucky standing on the right side of the digital divide and being a catalyst of opportunity when it comes to jobs requiring 21st Century skills.

It’s about cultivating an attitude of health and wellness.  This means leveraging the resources of our vast healthcare networks to nuture healthy communities in a healthy economy.

It’s about industrial recruitment and working with our educational institutions to provide highly-skilled, relevant and expedited training that is responsive to the speed of business and industry.

It’s about embracing our culture and quality of place by building a vast food network across Appalachia Kentucky.  It’s also about blurring county and municipal lines to develop Appalachia Kentucky as a tourist destination.

The debate is over, we believe there’s a future in Appalachia.

Faith is believing what you can’t see.  We are tackling one of the greatest economic development challenges in the history of the United States, but it’s no match to our faith and grit. It’s not about what SOAR is going to do.  It’s about what we are going to do.

How can you help?

I would encourage you to network with like-minded people throughout the SOAR region.  You can do that through our innovative SOAR.network platform.  You can also read our detailed Regional Blueprint that provides a concise framework for our transformation.

What we desire is just on the horizon.  We can’t stop now.  We have the momentum, the passion and the drive to see this through.  Our best days are ahead of us.

– Jared Arnett is executive director of Shaping Our Appalachian Region