By Ron Daley
Our publicly funded institutions and nonprofit organizations in Eastern Kentucky can do more to create jobs, more to retrain the workforce and more to rebuild the economy.
These are challenging times, but now is our moment to find a better, more coordinated way forward. Those of us who have lived here long enough know this region has been historically among the poorest in the United States. We have dealt with job loss and out migration again and again.
But this time is different. What we face in the coalfields is not the next down cycle in a bust-and-boom economy. It is our last best chance to change what's possible.
One thing we have going for us is the Shaping our Appalachian Region initiative, or SOAR. It is a public/private partnership with an ambitious mission "to expand job creation; enhance regional opportunity, innovation and identity; improve the quality of life; and support all those working to achieve these goals in Appalachian Kentucky."
But that mission will not be achieved just by Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers cooperating with each other. That's important, but we need commitment from public institutions that can marshal enough resources and boots on the ground to turn things around.
SOAR has challenged our organizations to collaborate and work with our citizens to invigorate the economy, especially in our most distressed areas. Our institutions and organizations can do more to create jobs or relocate their staffs in the region to grow the economy. Likewise, state government can make new hires or re allocate resources so Eastern Kentuckians may work from the region remotely using technology.
There are several outstanding institutions and organizations that are on the periphery of Eastern Kentucky but whose mission is to serve the region. They should commit to putting jobs in the region. Those that might have withdrawn jobs during budget cuts should revisit those decisions. Likewise, institutions that received recurring funding from the General Assembly for an Eastern Kentucky project, but ceased the project, should reinvest in the region.
After spending more than two-thirds of my life in this beautiful region filled with wonderful, courageous and creative people, I have concluded some well-intended people and their organizations from the outside do not grasp the total picture of who we are as a people or region. My heart and the hearts of our region break for the hard-working people who have lost jobs. We wish to recover these jobs and create new ones. We want to prepare our children and our adults for global information age jobs.
Now is the time for every organization and institution charged with serving the region to re examine its operations to ensure every available resource is used for job growth and improving quality of life. It is time for each resident to reflect on their future contributions for the revitalization and renaissance of our region.
We Eastern Kentuckians must be in charge of the destiny of the region we love.