Ideas focused on improving entrepreneurship, tourism, education and agriculture in Letcher County were discussed Thursday during a planning meeting attended by 47 Letcher residents.
“As the facilitator of the event, I could not be prouder of the great turnout and interest of so many people who really care about Letcher County and who want to make a difference for its future,” said Carol Ison, director of Cowan Community Action Group (CCAG).
The CCAG obtained a grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Kentucky Department of Local Government (DLG) to fund the Letcher County Standing Together Summit Planning Meeting. The grant is administered by the Brushy Fork Institute of Berea College.
A total of 60 people attended different portions of the planning meetings.
“We had people from all walks of life from farmers to business leaders,” said L.M. “Mike” Caudill, Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation’s chief operating offi- cer. “I thought it was a good planning effort. If we can accomplish something with it, we have done very good.”
Dr. Vaughn and Sandy Grisham of Bakersville, N.C., conducted the two-day assembly held at the Letcher County Extension Office on May 13 and May 14. The Grishams are currently involved with community develop projects in more than 30 states.
Vaughn Grisham, author of “Tupelo: The Evolution of a Community”, on May 13 referred to the transformation of Tupelo, Miss., from one of the poorest cities in the nation to becoming a model for economic development. He said community development is often a vital component of economic development.
“Small towns all over the United States are dying,” said Vaughn Grisham. “The only way these are going to be saved is if the local people who care put their time and money into these projects.”
Attendees at Thursday’s meeting divided into small groups based on their interest. Brenda DePriest, a member of the Jenkins Board of Education, is chairing the education committee. Jill Hatch, a grant writer who resides in Isom, is leading the tourism and arts committee. Caudill is chairman of the entrepreneur and agriculture committee. Isom resident Robert Hatch is leading the communications committee.
Vaughn Grisham said that those who attended the meeting had more ideas than what are usually generated during his “chat and chew” workshops he facilitates across the nation.
“The ideas were flowing so rapidly,” he said. “They came up with good plans — all that are workable within 30 days.”
The tourism and arts committee plans to host a hospitality training presented by Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). A long-term goal is to partner with Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College to provide several trainings for new employees.
The tourism and arts committee intends to develop travel packets to share with tour bus companies. A short-term goal is to identify Letcher County residents willing to host 80 to160 people on a tour of the county.
The next tourism and arts meeting is set for 6 p.m. on June 11. The location is yet to be determined. For more information, contact David Narramore at 633-5951.
The education committee has decided to collect data related to education and communication in Letcher County. Committee members want students educationally prepared to compete in the workplace. For more information about the education committee, contact Brenda DePriest at 606-832-4020.
The communication committee’s short-term goal is to establish a plan that distributes information about ongoing Letcher County Standing Together meetings and activities to keep general public involved. Contact Robert Hatch at (606) 216-4122.
Caudill said the entrepreneurship and agriculture committee’s purpose is to assist new businesses in getting started, assist existing businesses in expanding and assist troubled businesses in being able to overcome challenges in their future existence.
“We hope to do this by raising funds to have an economic development fund to use for starting grants and loans, to provide technical assistance and to explore ideas for business growth,” said Caudill. “We endorse the philosophy of the speaker Vaughn Grisham that we have to have skin in the game on the local level.”
All of the committees are expected to have assignments completed by June 19.
“These groups all will be holding a meeting soon to continue their discussions and all participants agreed they would not let their energy and commitment die at the end of the day,” said Ison. “A main point that was stressed repeatedly is that these two days do not end this movement and those who did not get to attend still will have an excellent opportunity to become involved.”
Ison said community members can still join committees if they were unable to attend the planning meetings.
The Grishams are confident that at least one idea discussed during the planning meetings will be brought to fruition.
“Vaughn and I were so impressed,” said Sandy Grisham. “We are absolutely thrilled that this much energy came out of it.”