The Rising of Appalachia

Lori Jude

On September 11-12, 2023, the Appalachian 
Regional Commission (ARC) and the Kentucky 
Department of Local Government (DLG) held its annual conference here in Ashland for the first time. The ARC is an economic development partnership entity of the federal government, with 13 state governments  focusing on 423 counties across the Appalachian region. The ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build 
community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.
Visit AKY held pre-conference activities for the ARC and DLG employees who came to town on September 10. These activities included a guided walking tour of downtown with Mayor Perkins, a Dr. Des Coveries animal show at the 
Highlands Museum, a barge cruise hosted by Marathon Petroleum, and dinner at The Mill followed by Karaoke. The ARC has a federal co-chair Gayle Manchin and a state co-chair Governor Andy Beshear. The conference is held in the city of the state co-chairs choosing. The ARC covers 13 states, and each governor is a member of the “commission.” 
If the governor cannot attend, someone representing the state attends the annual commission meeting. The last time the ARC conference was held in Kentucky, it 
was held in Somerset. According to Brandy Clark, director of Visit AKY, she and her counterparts gave a presentation and two 
in- person tours around our town, which helped in the selection of our city as the host city for this year. This was a big deal as it could have been held in any of the 54 ARC counties located in Kentucky.
Approximately 525 people from all over traveled to be in attendance. So much so, every hotel in Boyd County became sold out. Speakers came from all over and included well-
known names such as Basil Goodmen from the United States Department of Agriculture and John Calipari, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach. 

The breakout sessions which attendees were invited to attend included, Revving Economic Energy into Central Appalachia, Revitalizing Downtown Ashland Walking Tour, Blazing Trails in Central Appalachia, Building a Multigenerational Workforce, Leading Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Building, Building a Recovery Ecosystem From Community to the Federal Level, Designing Creative Partnerships, Broadband Deployment Strategies in Appalachia, and many more.
“The main benefits of having this conference in our area was for great networking, learning from other cities that have the same challenges as us, learning about the opportunities the ARC 
offers through grants, bringing people to our city who otherwise probably would never come, and to have a positive regional 
economic impact. But most of all, it gave us the confidence that we can and will host more conferences of this size and larger in 
the future. It also shows what our city can accomplish when we all work together,” said Clark. Clark says they would love to host the conference again but will have to wait for the opportunity to come back around. Visit 
AKY’s next goal is to host another SOAR Summit in the near future.