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Hal Rogers Town Hall Meeting

SALYERSVILLE – Local, state and federal officials gathered on Tuesday for a town hall meeting in Salyersville to discuss a beautification project for Restaurant Row, as well as economic development for the region.

SALYERSVILLE – Local, state and federal officials gathered on Tuesday for a town hall meeting in Salyersville to discuss a beautification project for Restaurant Row, as well as economic development for the region.
Those in attendance for the round-table-style discussion held at the Magoffin County Health Department on October 20 were Salyersville Mayor James “Pete” Shepherd, Magoffin County Judge-Executive Matt Wireman, Magoffin County Superintendent of Schools Scott Helton, Salyersville Tourism Commission’s David Gardner, State Representative John Blanton, who led the meeting, Congressman Hal Rogers, and Hilda Legg, who is President Donald Trump’s appointee as the Kentucky Director of USDA-Rural Development.
Gardner explained that they have been working on ways to “making lemonade out of lemons,” since the tornado (the lemons). He noted that with the completion of the Restaurant Row portion of the Parkway Expansion Project, they want to make that area look even better with a beautification project, with plans already in the works, utilizing new signage and landscaping to incentivize people traveling through to spend some time here.
Speaking of Congressman Roger’s influence over past projects, Gardner said, “When we became a part of the 5th District, we had been working on the cut-thru project for years and it never happened. He brought in the Corps of Engineers and got it done and it’s working. He helped us with the Parkway. We’re hoping with this project here he’ll say, ‘Let’s get this done.’”
Representative Blanton said the project can be vitally important to Salyersville, Magoffin County and the whole Eastern Kentucky Region. Blanton explained that Salyersville is the first town motorists come to in Eastern Kentucky and a strong first impression will incentivize people and businesses to come to the region.
“This will show how much we care about our communities,” Blanton said. “That is vitally important to us making strides in economic development and bringing jobs to Eastern Kentucky.”
Judge-Executive Wireman noted that all of Eastern Kentucky has new leadership and they have united as a group to improve the region as a whole, often traveling to Frankfort together to meet with legislators about area needs.
“The independent we enjoyed with coal is gone,” Wireman said. “The way we are going to prosper here is tourism,” explaining how the expansion of ATV trails throughout the region shows promise for bringing people, and along with them, more economic development opportunities, to Eastern Kentucky.
Wireman also emphasized the importance of the relationship between him, the mayor and the school superintendent, with them all working together for common goals.
“We’ve got to take care of each other,” Wireman said. “Magoffin Countians drive to Georgetown every single day and it’s getting old. We’ve had studies done and a diverse group of people who had never been here loved the City of Salyersville. We take that for granted and this proposal is a major step in inviting people and businesses here.”
Mayor Shepherd said small projects, like putting up flowers downtown, new wayfinding signage and cleaning the streets, have made a big difference in town and this is a big project, “that will be instrumental in changing the attitudes of people to Eastern Kentucky.”
Superintendent Scott Helton explained the school district supports efforts for bringing people to the region and, in order to do that, there must be a solid school system.
“We don’t want to lose our students,” Helton said. “We’ve lost too many over the last 20 years and we want to retain and grow. If something helps Magoffin County, it helps all of us.”
Helton said they are working toward beautifying the new high school with more landscaping to tie into the proposed beautification of Restaurant Row.
“If we can get people to stop as they trave through, and we show them what we have, they may come back,” Helton said.
Regarding economic development, Wireman said they are trying to have a feasibility study for a motel in Salyersville, noting that the pandemic had put the study on hold.
“If you go to the beach, you stay five or six days. We don’t have five or six day’s worth of things to do here, but we have five or six one-day trips in this region and they’re all 45 minutes to an hour away,” Wireman said. “We need to have a place for people to stay and I need that study to sell to those folks to bring a motel here.”
Wireman said that in order to be shovel ready at the industrial site, they need to put water access on site, but they have no funding for the estimated $2 million project, noting that he has businesses interested in the location, but the infrastructure has to be in place first.
Shepherd said the city is working to improve the signage on Restaurant Row to help businesses.
“We have a beautiful city and a unique city, and we just want to make the Parkway friendly to our businesses,” Shepherd said.
When asked what the community’s biggest needs are, Shepherd and Wireman both indicated that expanding and upgrading the water and sewer infrastructure is at the top of the list.
Gardner said that Magoffin, thanks to Foothills Communications, has excellent access to high-speed internet, but said a telehub where people can be trained and assisted with working online would be an asset to the community.
Legg applauded the community leaders on their collaboration, noting that their willingness to work together is a strong asset for the area and is not something seen in a lot of communities.
She noted that the Trump administration has invested in the farmer’s market, sustainable business ventures and rural development grants, as well as worked with the mayor to combat the opiate epidemic with the mobile unit.
Legg explained several funding streams Magoffin County could be eligible for to build on the projects they listed, extending a helping hand if there is anything they need from the Trump administration, noting she was “very impressed,” with the work local officials have done so far.
Congressman Rogers said, “This is what I had been hoping for all of my counties, by coming together to decide to do what’s best for the community. We’re living in a different age. Yeah, we’re dealing with this virus in the short term, buy in Eastern Kentucky, our problem is big and it’s general. It affects all of us.”
Rogers explained how before ethe coal industry, the region had timber, but both had brought people to the region to stay, with good jobs, benefits and retirement. Since the coal industry has been “under siege,” he said they are left with trying to decide what to do next. He noted the SOAR initiative has been working for the last seven years to find solutions to that problem.
“This is a great sounding project and solution,” Rogers said. “Good luck and this is a grand idea. If we can find money for this, it will be a victory for all of us. I want to help you. Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t.”
Rogers shared more contacts for the group to reach out to or help moving forward.
“The only good thing coming from the demise of the coal industry is it requires us to think different thoughts. That makes us better people and it makes this a better place. What I’ve heard today at this town meeting is the result of what I consider the very best way to build a community. This is the way communities grow and they’re on their way.”
Shepherd presented Rogers with a plaque and a special pen from the Salyersville Tourism Commission for his support of the community over the years.

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