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SOAR meets to discuss future of Appalachia

Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson visited eastern Kentucky and declared a war on poverty, hundreds of people in the region met to come up with ideas to improve the area.

The Lexington Herald- Leader reports the occasion on April 24 in Somerset marked the first meeting of 10 working groups that are part of an initiative called Shaping Our Appalachian Region.

The groups plan to come up with ideas for improving the region’s economy and quality of life.

Officials including Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who worked together to start SOAR last year, have’s said they are determined the effort will produce results.

Some of the ideas brought up for discussion included increasing tourism, increasing agriculture and marketing the region as a retirement destination.

Participants began on Thursday by identifying strengths and weaknesses of the area. One group said the region has cultural and natural resources to offer visitors, but there aren’t enough places to stay.

“There is a huge opportunity for bringing in more tourism,” said Nancy Hamann, who has a cabinrental business in the Red River Gorge.

Another group said agriculture could have a bigger economic impact, but it would need more investment and marketing, better coordination and more production.

“We got to get the basic production up,” said Mark Reese, a former University of Kentucky agriculture extension agent.

Beshear said in a speech at the conference that he and Rogers want to see longlasting results from the initiative, but that ultimately will depend on the efforts of people in the region. He urged them to participate in upcoming meetings.

“The real challenge is to sustain it,” Beshear said. “You will dictate both whether SOAR is a success and whether that success is durable.”

The working groups hope to produce reports with recommend strategies for improvement by September.

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