SOAR Summit | Appalachian News-Express: Not good at giving up

The following op-ed was published by the Appalachian News-Express on September 1, 2018. Visit the News-Express online at

As sad as it is, there are a lot of people outside of this area who would like nothing more than for Eastern Kentucky, and Central Appalachia, to be written off and closed down.

On a fairly regular basis, we find ourselves targeted by those who look at the demographics and data and assume this area would simply be, as Kevin D. Williamson wrote in the National Review in 2015 about some towns, “better off dead.”

“My own experience in Appalachia and the South Bronx suggests that the best thing that people trapped in poverty in these undercapitalized and dysfunctional communities could do is — move,” Williamson wrote. “Get the hell out of Dodge, or Eastern Kentucky, or the Bronx.”

This past week the SOAR Summit was being held at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville. Contrary to the goals of most of those gathered for the summit as both participants and observers, it, once again, means open season for those who have already written Eastern Kentucky’s obituary.

Those voices, like Williamson’s and what often echoes back to us from the national media, say the same thing, “Get out.”

After all, they say, why would we spend money or attention on Eastern Kentucky? Why, they ask, would we take risks that would be seen as noble in more economically stable areas of the nation? Why, they implore, should anyone care?

Any business that would want to locate in Eastern Kentucky, these voices say, is obviously corrupt and seeking to exploit the people. Anyone who would want to move to this area is obviously misled, they say. And those who believe in a future for this region? They’re simply wrong, these voices say.

In some ways, it’s a good thing we got really adept at not listening to voices which wanted to paint a false narrative about Appalachia over the decades.

It means that the stereotypical stubbornness which is supposedly inherent in the people here could be seen as an asset. Many of us simply aren’t good at giving up.

Part of the issue, though, is sometimes right here.

We should question. We should be skeptical. We should make sure that any company which wants to come here is willing to be transparent and open to scrutiny.

But, often, some of our own people are joining or leading the chorus of naysayers. Some see growth as not possible and some actually hinder growth out of jealousy or other reasons.

The reality is we’re moving forward. It may not be easy. It may not always be pretty. And, like an infant, sometimes forward momentum is interrupted by stumbles. But we’re learning to walk.

We would just appreciate it if those who have no interest in seeing our region succeed would quit throwing obstacles in our way. 

We can do this. We are doing this. We will succeed — with or without the naysayers.