Efforts to reclaim abandoned mine lands, spur economic development, and to bring high-speed, high capacity broadband Internet to the region were among the topics U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers covered as the keynote speaker for the first ever Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Knox County Chamber of Commerce collaborative luncheon Thursday in Williamsburg.
“It’s great to see these two chambers meeting together,” Rogers told the crowd. “You will find you can get so much more done when you are pulling together as one.”
Southern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Trent Knuckles welcomed the crowd of over 150 people, who gathered at the Williamsburg Tourism and Convention Center for the event.
“I think we can get a lot more accomplished when we work together. Hopefully this won’t be the last, but the first of many,” Knuckles told the audience.
Knox County Chamber of Commerce President James McDowell echoed similar sentiments.
“We’re a small chamber. We normally don’t have events of this nature or this size, so we are absolutely thrilled to death to be here on this momentous day. We look forward to further opportunities to cooperate in any way possible,” McDowell added.
During his presentation, Rogers gave an update about on-going work in Washington, D.C. and Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District, including new grant funding opportunities to reclaim abandoned mine lands and repurpose them for economic development projects, the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative, and the KentuckyWired project that will connect every county in the state to high-speed, high-capacity broadband.
“For the first time in Eastern Kentucky’s history, we are in the mix and broadband will place us in world-wide competition,” said Rogers, who helped launch the broadband project through the SOAR initiative. “I think high-speed, high-capacity Internet is the new interstate highways of our age.”
Rogers noted that one of his conditions for the KentuckyWired project was that it starts in eastern Kentucky first.
The effort is more complicated than you might think. Right-of-ways have to be obtained for 18,000 utility poles. There are 400 individual property owners, who won’t let workers onto their premises to string the cable.
Gov. Matt Bevin’s office recently announced more than $10 million in grants for economic development and infrastructure projects in the region, including $200,000 to help local businesses become ISO certified, which is a certification needed to secure most federal contracts.
“If we want to hit a homerun with federal contracting, then we have to get in the game that means becoming ISO certified,” Rogers added.
The Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation (SKED) is hosting a supplier education and economic development-contracting symposium on Oct. 19 at the Corbin Center that Rogers encouraged luncheon attendees to go to.
Rogers added that it has been a rough time in Washington, D.C. recently, or as he calls it, “Manhattan on the Potomac.”
“I’m chagrinned, as I am sure you are, of the violence of the last few days by extreme people. We don’t have any room in this country for violence, or breaking the law, or harming people because of what they believe or what they look like. We have to restrain ourselves. We have to act civilized like we are,” Rogers said.
“This is a very diverse country that we share. We have people of different beliefs, who are entitled to those beliefs under our constitution. We have to protect them and those rights short of violence. Violence has no place. I don’t care who it is. Nevertheless we will come through this fine.”
After the luncheon, Rogers visited CSRA Inc. in Barbourville where he spoke with nearly 100 employees.
The facility supports the work of federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services.
“I’m thrilled with what you’re doing,” said Rogers. “The way we process information has drastically changed. With the advent of KentuckyWired, broadband will allow this company and countless more to expand operations, giving more people the opportunity to stay in Eastern Kentucky to work and raise their families.”
The KCEOC Community Action Agency (CAA) also hosted Rogers Thursday afternoon for a meeting with directors of nine CAAs in Eastern Kentucky. They discussed the impact of programs, like Head Start and heating assistance in the region.