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Regional 'summit' scheduled for Dec. 9;

Rural Policy Research Institute hired by new group to coordinate a strategic planning process;

Eastern Kentucky's Republican congressman and the state's Democratic governor announced Monday they are starting an effort to stimulate the economy of Appalachian Kentucky, which includes some of the nation's poorest counties.

coal operator Jim Booth (far left in photo), this year's Kentucky Chamber of Commerce chairman, said his company has survived by diversifying beyond coal, and the region needs to do likewisecoal operator Jim Booth (far left in photo), this year's Kentucky Chamber of Commerce chairman, said his company has survived by diversifying beyond coal, and the region needs to do likewiseGov. Steve Beshear and Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers announced in Hazard that they had hired the Rural Policy Research Institute to coordinate a strategic planning process that will go public Dec. 9 in Pikeville, with a "summit" that they hope will attract hundreds of people from Eastern and Southern Kentucky, the regions that have almost all of the state's Appalachian counties.

The impetus for the effort appears to be the recent loss of 6,000 jobs in the coal industry, which has dominated most of Eastern Kentucky for a century but is suffering from depletion of easily mined coal, competition with natural gas, and new environmental regulations.

"With the difficulties in the coal industry . . . a lot of people are saying there's no hope for Appalachia," said Rogers, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. "They're saying the region's best days are over. Well, I say, hogwash." He said the region must "think outside the box."

Beshear said the region needs new strategies partly because "How we produce and consume energy is shifting, and the availability of government money has been sharply curtailed." However, the effort is being helped by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Rural Development branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Appalachian Regional Commission map shows distressed counties in red.Appalachian Regional Commission map shows distressed counties in red.The effort has been dubbed Shaping our Appalachian Region, with a logo showing an eagle soaring. Beshear said it began with a planning team of three dozen regional leaders, primarily from the private sector, including coal operator Jim Booth, this year's Kentucky Chamber of Commerce chairman. Booth said his company has survived by diversifying beyond coal, and the region needs to do likewise.

"This is the beginning of a process," Beshear said of the Dec. 9 summit. "It's not a one-time event designed to produce a magic formula, because there are no magic formulas. . . . what will come of this, to be honest with you, we're not sure. . . . To be successful, the people of Appalachia, the people of Appalachia, must step up and take ownership and responsibility for their own future."

Rogers agreed, saying, "The solution to our problem must come from within. . . . It cannot come from Washington or Frankfort or your county seat. It's got to come from us the people, we the people." He said the region must commit to innovation and technology. State legislative leaders from the region agreed.

State House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, said, "The target has to be a better trained, better educated workforce here in the mountains."

State Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said he could not "tell you we will succeed, but if we do not try, we will be doomed to failure in Eastern Kentucky."

Chuck Fluharty, CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, said "I have never begun to work with a region in deeper need of very serious assessment for its future," but "I've never started with a region that has greater commitment to its purpose and greater political leadership."

Written by Al Cross Posted at 10/28/2013 11:29:00 AM

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