Somerset to host national economic development summit
THOUGH MOST OF KENTUCKY’S POPULATION growth centers around larger population centers according to the 2020 U.S. Census, a national economic development conference in late July aims to show how rural communities are in a prime growth position.
Sponsored in part by Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives, the 2022 Stand Up Rural America Summit is expected to draw hundreds to The Center for Rural Development in Somerset.
“I look for vibrant small cities and regions that have a good rural economic development story to tell,” says Lorie Vincent, a Texas-based economic developer and summit founder. She has counseled nearly 300 communities in her 30-year career.
“It will be our pleasure to highlight the economic success the Somerset-Pulaski County area has experienced in the last several years and feature them as a case study of how economic success can be achieved through collaboration and innovative initiatives,” Vincent says.
Set for July 26–28, the summit features more than 20 experts.
“It all comes together at this conference,” says Brad Thomas, economic development manager at East Kentucky Power Cooperative, emphasizing the golden opportunity for the event to be hosted in Kentucky. “Show this Kentucky Living article to your local leaders and urge them to attend.”
As evidenced by the dozens of companies featured in Kentucky Living’s Business Spotlight column in the last two years, rural Kentucky has become increasingly attractive for economic development, especially in areas served by electric cooperatives known for service and commitment to consumer-members.
“I think a lot of times our rural communities for some reason think that they’re not going to see the types of projects that urban areas are getting, and that couldn’t be further than the truth,” Thomas adds. “These projects are in fact going to rural communities in Kentucky.”
Those local areas need to consider all the factors that contribute to landing a major project.
“We are seeing large scale projects that want anywhere from 500 to 1,000 acres,” Thomas explains. “You’re not going to find those locations in an urban setting. It’s got to be rural. Mega projects have to happen in rural areas. It’s about getting our communities engaged and understanding that they have a distinct advantage on those large-scale projects.”
The summit’s agenda includes discussions on creating a destination community, innovative housing, leadership, talent development, resilience, downtown revitalization, communication, maximizing partnerships and collaborations.
Kentucky speakers at the event include Jonathan Webb, CEO of sustainable food company AppHarvest in Morehead, whose presentation is titled A Dynamic Approach to Agribusiness.
With the pandemic experience of the last two years accelerating remote work options, Vincent says rural America must be ready.
“We have to make sure our infrastructure is strong, our marketing is fresh, and our housing, schools and hospitals can accommodate growth,” she says. “We need to prepare our assets, minimize our gaps and put together strong action plans to take advantage of the new opportunities to grow our communities.”
“For decades, we have seen the migration of the brightest minds leaving rural communities to go to urban areas,” Thomas says. “Now we have an opportunity to turn that around and once again have these rural communities be strong and create opportunities for careers.”
Summit registration $40 discount code for Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives’ friends and partners: KYCOOP40.