Washington leaders attend SOAR Summit to discuss ways to help Eastern Kentucky

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - Several people from Washington joined Rep. Hal Rogers and Gov. Matt Bevin for the third Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit.

Leaders said they wanted to learn more about SOAR and its goals in the region.

Representatives from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were all in one room to talk about how they plan to help Eastern Kentucky.

"We are here to do two things: One, is to listen and to see where folks are going ... what their priorities are. And second of all, to have a role to help invest in Southeast Kentucky to make it a great place to live and to work," said Earl Gohl, ARC's Federal Co-Chair.

Investment, connectivity, and health care were all key points of discussion.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he is dedicated to helping bring broadband to the mountains.

"Coal was the commodity of the last couple of centuries, broadband is the commodity now," Wheeler said. "If you do not have access to broadband, you don't have access to the 21st Century."

Wheeler said big money comes into Kentucky from phone bill tags. He said Kentuckians get $85 million more than they pay.

"It's a worthwhile investment because it comes to areas like here in Eastern Kentucky that are high cost and very difficult to build broadband networks, but those broadband networks are the key to the economic future in the area," Wheeler said.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said health can play a big role in making the goals of the SOAR, a reality.

"There are innovations within the health care field that can make health care better, less expensive, more effective, easier for patients," Frieden said. "There are also innovations outside of health care, that can make it better for peoples' health."

Local and state leaders also took the stage Monday. They say it takes people on the national, state, and local levels working together to help make Eastern Kentucky a better place.

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