DENVER, Colorado, June 25, 2014—A delegation of Kentucky leaders participated in the Clinton Global Initiative's CGI America 2014 meeting this week in Denver, Colorado, to build on the "Shaping Our Appalachian Region" (SOAR) initiative's goal of addressing eastern Kentucky's development challenges and moving its economy forward. The diverse delegation included leaders in Kentucky state government, business, education, and philanthropy.
Participants included Jennifer Lindon of Hazard Community and Technical College; Robert Gipe of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College; Jeff Whitehead of the EKCEP Workforce Investment Board; Gerry Roll of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky; Lynn Littrell of the Kentucky Department for Local Government; Jerry Rickett and Ray Moncrief of the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation; Tim Bobrowski of Owsley County Schools; and Dreama Gentry of Berea College.
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) provided support for the delegation's participation in the conference, and ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl, Entrepreneurial Development Manager Ray Daffner, and Education Program Manager Jeff Schwartz also engaged in discussion of Appalachian issues at the conference.
The delegation's participation in the CGI America conference follows the December 2013 SOAR citizen summit, which examined the need for economic rebirth in eastern Kentucky as the loss of thousands of coal-mining jobs has had significant repercussions throughout the region's economy. Recent data indicates that the poverty rate in Appalachian Kentucky is approximately 25 percent, in comparison with the state's 18.6 percent and the nation's 14.9 percent.
The Kentucky delegation to CGI America 2014 was organized to develop partnerships and cultivate resources that would help address these pressing challenges.
"We have a hardworking creative group of Kentuckians participating in this year's CGI meeting," said Gohl. "These are folks from community colleges, workforce boards, small-business investors, nonprofits, philanthropies, and state government who are all dedicated to building a diverse, strong economy in eastern Kentucky."
Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear applauded the delegation for "taking the initiative to reach out to a broad audience of potential partners and investors to move our eastern Kentucky region forward economically. They have the capacity to build the full range of relationships across the country that will help empower our state to meet the economic challenges that we are facing, and that have been so clearly laid out in our SOAR initiative."
Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, expressed optimism that the region would be able to develop a comprehensive plan for its future. "As chair of the SOAR Education and Retraining Working Group, I hope not only to expand our networks and learn more about cutting-edge solutions and partnerships, but also to share the opportunities for growth and success that can be found in eastern Kentucky," he said.
Ray Moncrief, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, pointed to entrepreneurship as critical to economic development in eastern Kentucky and saw networking with people and organizations at the CGI conference as a way to create debt funds such as Appalachian Community Capital that could play "a huge role in implementing SOAR" and energizing business activity.
Robert Gipe, Appalachian Program director at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, said the college wants to "create learning opportunities that encourage entrepreneurship, help our students increase their own creative capacity, and build skill sets that will allow them to interact with a networked, technologically intense world from a position of strength." He noted that the CGI meeting presented a good opportunity to find partners for this work.
Owsley County Schools Superintendent Tim Bobrowski remarked that by attending the CGI conference he hoped to "share with others our successes and opportunities for improvements for our schools and our community, developing new ideas and securing new resources in the process."
Hosted by President Bill Clinton, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton, the fourth annual CGI America meeting was held June 23–25 in Denver, Colorado. The event focuses on finding solutions that promote economic recovery in the United States and brings together leaders from the business, foundation, NGO, and government sectors to develop solutions for economic growth, long-term competitiveness, and social mobility. Since the first CGI America meeting was held in 2011, participants have made more than 300 commitments valued at more than $15 billion when fully funded and implemented.