WHITLEY COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Hundreds gather for the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit focused on the economic development and growth of eastern Kentucky.
The event sees more than a thousand people over the three-day event.
On Thursday, Governor Andy Beshear and long-time Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers attended as guest hosts.
Rogers was a part of the initial summit in 2013.
“We must be doing something right because it keeps growing. And that's what it's all about. The mission of SOAR is clear. We want to shape a brighter future,” said Rogers.
Eastern Kentucky took a major hit with the decline of coal production worldwide. Many attendees want to see the area get back to the way it was with more job opportunities and businesses opening up.
Attendees have the opportunity to network, get advice on entrepreneurship and attend a career fair at the Summit.
Many events of its size were postponed or canceled because of the pandemic. SOAR organizers stayed the course despite COVID’s toll on eastern Kentucky.
That decision was okay for guests like Kelly Burton.
“Things are improving. The arena is over 100,000 square foot there has been ample space for people to be able to socialize. Personally, I have my mask in my purse, if we're unable to do that,” said attendee Kelly Burton.
Cases have declined across Kentucky, but most of the state is still in the red-including Whitley County.
“Obviously this region has been hit in a tragic way. We’ve seen a lot of loss of life, but we’re seeing strong action taken from universal masking in virtually all of our schools and our numbers are coming down. I believe we’ve seen the worst of it in this wave but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet,” said Beshear.
From the podium, Beshear delivered a message that acknowledged how difficult COVID has been for eastern Kentuckians but also looking forward with hope.
"I think you sit at the precipice of an era where we can make that prosperity reach every single part of consumption, including Eastern Kentucky, which has been left out or left behind far too many times,” said Beshear.