ASHLAND, Ky. (FOX 56) — The Appalachian Regional Commission’s 2023 annual conference welcomed hundreds of collaborators and some familiar faces from all across Appalachia to Ashland on Monday.
The ARC is an economic development partnership with the federal government that focuses on building community capacity and strengthening economic growth across Appalachia.
“With a special focus on the importance of resiliency and collaboration in the region, the 2023 conference features partners from across Appalachia who work daily to strengthen communities by creating and expanding workforce development, growing outdoor recreation, developing entrepreneurs, and building leadership and community capacity,” ARC said.
This year’s conference celebrated resilience.
“It’s fitting that the conference theme this year focuses on resilience,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “Last year, Eastern Kentucky was hit by the worst flooding in our state’s history. As we recover together, the strength and spirit our people have shown has been amazing. We’re excited to welcome hundreds to Ashland for this great event, and we’re ready to continue our work with the ARC as we rebuild and transform our Appalachian region.”
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University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari joined Gov. Andy Beshear at the conference’s kickoff. Calipari is the grandson of a coal miner and the son of a steelworker, and he shared his story, one that closely mirrors an Appalachian upbringing, with the governor.
“It was never about who had and what had. We were all the same,” Calipari said. “You had to work, and you had to do it together.”
“If you’re the basketball coach in Kentucky and all you do is watch tape and you’re in your office and you coach basketball, you cheat the position. It’s a position that moves people to good if you choose to do that,” Calipari said.
In an open conversation, Beshear and Calipari reflect on the disaster relief initiatives they’ve partnered on over the years. Including the annual blue-white game Calipari opted to host in Pikeville to raise money for flood relief after the 2022 devastating summer floods.
“If that wasn’t enough, there was a special guy who showed up in that game, Michael McGuire, who had just gotten off his shift at the coal mine. You saw the pictures, you found him, and you made sure he made it to some UK games.”
“That picture, like, was my grandfather. Coal dust, I didn’t know he had red hair, I thought he had black hair,” Calipari said. “It touched everybody. Like, wait a minute, what chord did it just hit? Appalachia, working hard, being about your family, not being embarrassed to be proud of your job, and being there for your kids.”
Conversations continued throughout the night with people like Congressman Hal Rogers and Manchin, but closed out the night with eastern Kentucky’s rising star, Tyler Childers.
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Childers had worked alongside Beshear to organize an exclusive charity concert to benefit Childers’ Hickman Holler Relief Fund. Organized by Childers and his wife, Hickman Holler, to bring awareness and financial support to philanthropic efforts in the Appalachian region.
Hickman Holler has openly supported education, addressing the opioid crisis, and disaster relief in eastern Kentucky.
“Yesterday was all about celebrating eastern Kentucky and Appalachia, so it was fitting to have the talented Tyler Childers in Ashland with us,” Beshear said. “We are committed to a brighter future for this region, and through Tyler’s work, you can see just how important that goal is.”