What's Next, Eastern Kentucky?
Eastern Kentucky's most valuable asset is our people. Our miners, teachers, healthcare workers and others know hard work. Mountain people are creative. We have always figured out how to do more with less and find ways to connect to new opportunities.
But given where things are right now, we need more bold and thoughtful action than ever before.
Eastern Kentucky's challenges are tough. Our economy is changing, and our economic development efforts so far have not worked well enough to make things better. Not for most of us. But there are ways to grow a stronger and more diverse economy right here within our reach.
What if, starting today, we were driven by an ambitious vision of a brighter future? What if we helped 5,000 locally owned businesses grow? What if 50,000 households got energy efficiency upgrades? What if our healthcare system allowed another 25,000 patients a year to stay in the region for treatment? What if 20,000 school children ate locally grown food each day? How many dollars would these ideas save and jobs would they create? What would it take to make things like that happen?
We can get there, but it will take new entrepreneurs, engaged local residents and significant public and private investment.
First we need a new commitment to growing the economy we want—a diverse economy that works better for everyone. Our region deserves an economy that supports a higher quality of life, results in more good and stable jobs, generates wealth that benefits many, and protects our land and people. We are worth that vision.
Things get better when people in the region step up, say what they think and commit to making the changes we need. Change can be scary, but the rewards are well worth it: better lives for our kids, better future for our communities. We need effective leadership, and that begins with us demanding better results. Here are three ways to get involved:
1. Ask candidates running for office what they are doing to create meaningful jobs that provide for families and contribute to stronger communities. How are they going to build on our strengths and face our challenges? Will they invest in our people?
2. The SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) process has potential to connect good ideas to real resources. But to deliver something new and ambitious, a broad range of people must be involved. Learn more about SOAR and sign up to be part of the conversation at www.soar-ky.org.
3. Connect to the growing conversation about eastern Kentucky's future. You can go to www.maced.org/connect.htm to find ways to engage. In the coming months we will make more details available on some of the ideas discussed above and share stories of what is working around the region.
Eastern Kentucky can do it our way. The region needs people coming together now more than ever to create an ambitious vision of a brighter future and to start putting that future into place.
MACED is a 38-year-old community economic development organization with offices in Berea, Hazard and Paintsville. We grow local businesses and organizations, demonstrate good development ideas, and support effective public policy.