By Kimber Ray
When eastern Kentucky residents shared their regional vision at Appalachia’s Bright Future Conference this September, they could point to real examples. The main highlight of the conference, which attracted more than 100 people from across Appalachia, was a collection of 20 tours of local businesses, farms, music and art venues, tourist attractions, and community cooperatives.
This was the second Bright Future Conference presented by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a grassroots organization focused on economic and environmental justice. The three-day event showcased economic transition in Kentucky’s Harlan and Letcher counties.
Several tours focused on how to re-envision coal mining as a historic heritage attraction, with destinations such as The Kentucky Coal Mine Museum and an underground tour of coal mine Portal 31. Also featured among the tours was the recently developed Benham Energy Project to promote community-wide energy efficiency.
As Appalachian communities face the challenge of transitioning from a largely coal-dependent economy, such conversations are spreading.
On the state level, a similar conference hosted by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (Ky.-D) is the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative, which aims to advance health, education and economic opportunity in eastern Kentucky.
Unique to the SOAR initiative are themed listening sessions conducted across the region to gather citizen feedback. Following the Dec. 2013 SOAR Summit kickoff, opinions on the initiative were mixed, with some residents and organizations expressing concern that elected officials failed to acknowledge citizen feedback, and others embracing it as a way to engage with a diverse set of ideas.
Visit soar-ky.org to learn about the November 2014 SOAR summit. To learn more about Appalachia’s Bright Future, visit kftc.org