Key conference coming to Ashland

·3 min read

Mar. 21—ASHLAND — Amidst much pomp and circumstance in the lobby of the Delta Hotel, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Tuesday that the Appalachian Regional Commission will be conducting its next conference in Ashland.

The conference will run Sept. 11 and Sept. 12 and is expected to garner up to 600 participants, according to Federal ARC Co-Chair Gayle Manchin, wife of Joe, the Democrat Senator from West Virginia.

According to Beshear, the conference could bring in hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars directly into Ashland, Boyd County and the wider tri-state area. However, the governor noted having all these visitors coming from all over will raise the Tri-State's profile, which may result in more investment down the road.

The ARC representing is a federal economic partnership representing 423 counties in 13 states. It was founded in 1965 during Pres. Lyndon Baines Johnson's push for the "Great Society."

The commission works with states and counties to develop business, health care and infrastructure.

Beshear is currently the state-co-chair of the commission — every year, one governor from the 13 states represented serves as the state co-chair.

At Tuesday's presser, Visit AKY director Brandy Clark became emotional as she thanked the ARC for selecting her hometown for the conference.

"I'm going to quote the great poet Reba McEntire," she said. "Here's your one chance, Fancy, don't let me down. Out of all the 206,000 square miles of the ARC, yet here we stand our in our small town in eastern Kentucky."

The original song "Fancy" was written and performed by Bobbie Gentry in 1969. McEntire's cover was released in 1990.

Beshear said Ashland was selected after several other areas were looked at — he said the commission determined Ashland had the best space and enough rooms in the area to support it.

Manchin said the point of the conference is for various states and areas to trade best practices, not only for Appalachia to survive, but to thrive. Noting the similarities between eastern Kentucky and her native southern West Virginia, Manchin said if someone where to lift up the borders between the states, "it would be hard to tell where you could set it back down."

"It's about competing," she said. "If you take all 423 counties with all its 26 million people, there's only two entities that are bigger — California and Texas. I believe we are resilient and innovative enough to compete with them and prove it."

Introduced as "Mayor Peter" by Manchin, Mayor Matt Perkins announced the old refrain — "a rising tide raises all ships."

"It's not just the states working together, but it's the cities and the counties working together," he said. "We are stronger when we work together. I am proud to showcase Ashland and Boyd County."

Rocky Adkins, Senior Adviser to Beshear and essentially the second-in-command east of the "Winchester Wall," said he's proud to have grown up in an ARC county and he is excited to show off what eastern Kentucky can offer.

"I got a text from Brandy Clark and she said 'we won't let you down,'" he said. "You don't have to worry about letting me down — it's the people from 423 counties and 13 states you have to worry about."

Adkins continued, "But I know what our region has to offer — this region is poised to make big things happen."

Adkins also said he received a text from Boyd County Judge-Executive Eric Chaney, who apologized for not being able to make it to the event because he had to work day shift at the refinery.

"He said he's excited," Adkins said. "And Mayor Perkins said the exact same thing."