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Appalachia sprouts wings

The Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association (CGRTA) is partnering with an initiative aimed at transforming the lives of those living in Appalachia.

The SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) Blueprint Partnership program is working toward seven major goals, including the expansion of affordable, high-speed fiber optic broadband services.

Upgrades in the internet will help the local workforce develop a competitive edge in the digital economy while allowing local small business owners to expand their existing trade.

The SOAR Blueprint partners are working to grow existing manufacturing opportunities while enticing new industry to the area.

Another goal of the program is reducing the physical and economic impact of obesity, diabetes and substance abuse. Coupled with this goal is the creation of a foods movement that will connect local producers to markets, both inside and outside the region.

In particular, SOAR is working to establish Kentucky as an Appalachian tourist spot.

“This is a natural partnership between these two organizations, since the mission of both are similar. Our ultimate goal is that of making history, natural beauty, art, music, adventure and the Appalachian experience come alive by making the Cumberland Gap region a destination that tourists will drive to — not drive through,” said Carl Nichols, president and CEO of the Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association.

Among its many aims, the CGRTA serves as a clearinghouse for training and development of tourism programs within its 10-county region.

“We are committed to encouraging, building and maintaining a better economy for the Cumberland Gap region through the promotion of tourism and small businesses,” said Nichols.

The SOAR Regional Blueprint program, a strategic plan created in 2016, is open to any organization, business or individual.

“This is about building a movement that will take root and transform the region,” said Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR. “The challenges we face are great, but the potential to collaborate with our partners around our Regional Blueprint is greater.

“There are many organizations, businesses and people doing incredible work. By joining the program, they are a part of a collaborative effort. We can’t do this alone. Our partners are critical in building the 21st century Appalachia we so desire,” said Arnett.

Shaping Our Appalachian Region was formed in 2013 as a nonpartisan economic development agency for the expansion of jobs and to create regional opportunities, innovations and identities. The initiative works to improve the quality of life and to support all those working to achieve these goals.

For more information, or to register in the Blueprint Partnership program, log onto: www.soar-ky.org/partner. Or, you may call 606-766-1160.

The Cumberland Gap Region Tourism Association covers Campbell, Claiborne, Hancock, Grainger and Union counties in Tennessee, Bell, Harlan, Knox and Whitley counties in Kentucky, and Lee County in Virginia.

For more information, visit www.cumberlandgapregion.com.