U.S. Rep Hal Rogers, a staunch supporter of Kentucky’s coal industry, said last week that the state must consider other manners of employment for the Appalachian region besides coal.
Rogers on Friday spoke to the the University of Louisville Board of Trustees–in in Prestonsburg for their annual retreat–to give an update on the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative. He also asked the board members to continue supporting the program spearheaded by Rogers and Gov. Steve Beshear.
He said during the first SOAR meetings people came forward with ideas they’d never aired publicly for fear of being labeled as “anti-coal.”
“Coal is going to be around a long time we’re going to support coal, but it’s not hiring as many people and it’s getting worse,” Rogers said.
“We’ve gotta think of things other than coal to make a living.”
Coal employment dropped 2.8 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to state numbers released in February.
The SOAR initiative began in 2013 as an effort to revitalize the Eastern Kentucky’s depressed economy.
Rogers says the region has long suffered from a lack of infrastructure development because of the mountainous, remote terrain.
“It’s very expensive to build roads, sewer lines and water lines in limestone rock at 45-degree angles so we’ve been held back. We didn’t have the barge lines or the big airport or the big metropolitan area and so forth in order to attract manufacturing type jobs,” Rogers said.
One of the major successes of SOAR has been a public-private partnership scheduled to begin this summer to build a $250-$300 million broadband internet network across the region.
The plan, developed by Australian investment firm Macquarie Capital, includes more than 3,000 miles of fiber lines and uses about $50 million in state and federal funds.
“It’ll give us the capability to go after those new jobs of this age, the lower end of the high-tech field that we can do,” Rogers said.
Eastern Kentucky’s Mountain Parkway is currently undergoing a $753 million project to expand the highway to four lanes.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, has proposed extending the parkway by 140 miles into West Virginia for an estimated $8-$10 billion.