A resident of McCreary County, Kentucky, addresses a job creation panel at an economic planning summit in Pikeville Monday

[imgcontainer] [img:soarstream.jpg] [source]KET[/source] A resident of McCreary County, Kentucky, addresses a job-creation panel at an economic planning summit in Pikeville Monday [/imgcontainer]

SOAR-ing. Eastern Kentuckians need to think beyond “Friday night lights” and county rivalries and work as a region to create a better economy.

That’s one theme emerging from the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), an effort backed by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Fifth) and Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. The planning effort to boost the region’s flagging economy got underway today with a summit in Pikeville, in the heart of Kentucky’s eastern coalfields. More than 1,600 people attended the summit.

“Our problem is county lines,” said Chuck Fluharty, head of the Rural Policy and Research Institute, which helped organize the summit and will make a report on possible next steps. Fluharty said eastern Kentucky’s economic success is critical to the state’s progress and the nation.

“What you are doing is about the future of the entire state,” he said. “In fact, it’s about the future of America.”

But success will require the region’s small counties to create new ways of working together, rather than competing. Fluharty said that may require local governments and the state to create a larger organization, funded by public money and philanthropy, to take a regional approach to development.

To drive home that point, the morning session at the SOAR summit ended with a presentation from Tony Sertich, head of Minnesota’s Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Fund (IRRRB). The development agency invests in Iron Range businesses and workforce development with funds generated by a tax on ore mined in the region.

The eastern Kentucky economy has taken a beating in recent years, in part because of declines in the coal industry. In the one-year period ending in October 2013, the counties that make up most of Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District lost more than 6,800 jobs. That’s 3% of the region’s employment.

A Newspaper’s Public Service. The Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader devotes gallons of ink and a passel of pixels to eastern Kentucky economic development. The paper ran a two-day commentary package in advance of the SOAR summit (see above). There are pieces on culture, energy production, workforce development, food, politics, childhood development and other topics. Commentators range from historians, business leaders, artists, manufacturers.

The series is the equivalent of a graduate level course in rural development – with the notable difference that, unlike a business textbook, it’s readable.

(Also notable for its attention to the SOAR summit, Kentucky Educational Television has been streaming a video webcast of the proceedings.)

French Press Looks at Rural Secession Movement in U.S. The French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) looks at secessionist sentiments in western Maryland.

The primary source for the article is Scott Strzelcyzk, an activist who is pushing for western counties in the panhandle to break off from the more urban section of the state surrounding Baltimore.

“‘I think of myself as an average citizen who is sick and tired of being sick and tired,’ said Strzelcyzk, who refers to the state capital Annapolis with the same contempt that euroskeptics reserve for Brussels.”

The Rural Subsidy Myth. Modern Farmer recaps the dismal report from the USDA Economic Research Service on the rural economy. It’s good to see this information reach a broader audience. But we’re sorry to see Modern Farmer swallow the line that rural areas don’t pay their way when it comes to taxes. They cite a study that shows urban areas pay more in taxes than they receive in public spending. In reality, in a per-capita basis, federal spending is greater in urban areas. It’s a fact.

Infant Mortality. The Wichita (Kansas) Eagle looks at the rural infant mortality rate in the state:

In Kansas, infants die at higher rates than the national average. And the infant mortality rates in Kansas are higher for babies born to women who live in rural and densely settled rural areas compared to infants born to women who live in frontier (less than six people per square mile), urban and semi-urban areas, according to state vital statistics data from 2008 to 2012.

One cause could be that “women in rural areas often don’t have the same access to care as women in more urban areas.”

S.D. Ranchers Relief Fund Surpasses $1 Million. The South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund has raised more than $1 million to help ranchers who were hit by the early October blizzard. The fund is being managed through the Black Hill Area Community Foundation.

There’s still no firm tally on how many head of cattle died in the storm, but it’s likely in the tens of thousands. 

The fund is helping with financial and social-services support.

“Ranchers are a resilient bunch of folks,” [Silvia] Christen [executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association] said. “They wouldn’t be in the business if they didn’t have the work ethic and fortitude to get them through tough times. But this is a particularly hard loss and hit a lot of people. Generally the mood has been positive. They are looking to rebuild, looking at options for taking on new or leased livestock, and are talking about the future. However, there is certainly a mourning period and while moods are good, there are still a lot of tough and dark days ahead for some of these families.”

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