Nearly 200 attendees from across the United States spent two days learning best practices in economic development at the Stand Up Rural America Summit, held July 26-28 at the Center for Rural Development in Somerset.
Presented by ACCELERATION by design LLC in partnership with the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA), the City of Somerset, Pulaski County Government, Lake Cumberland Tourism and The Center, the summit gave attendees tools and strategies tangible things to help cities, counties and regions grow. This was the third year for the event, which has previously been held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charleston, West Virginia.
ACCELERATION by design President Lorie Vincent said her company received several proposals during the host city search, but SPEDA quickly rose to the top.
“It was the perfect moment, the perfect fit and the perfect story to tell,” Vincent said. “Their efforts to revive their community through quality of life initiatives, industry recruitment, job creation and downtown revitalization exemplify everything we wanted to promote in our quest to put showcasing the vibrancy of rural America. The facilities were excellent and the welcome was genuine. The hospitality was amazing, the program was exceptional and working with the host committee was a real joy. The bar has been set incredibly high for the next host city.
The event included panel discussions, presentations and a celebration of what makes rural America special, featuring more than 20 nationally recognized subject matter experts and successful economic development practitioners. The experiential lineup included speakers like former NFL coach and Call an Audible author Daron K. Roberts, who inspired attendees with his story of a journey from a rural East Texas upbringing. to a successful career in sports leadership training, as well as Stephanie Stuckey, CEO of Stuckey’s, the all-American roadside oasis famous for its pecan log rolls. Stuckey told a compelling story of taking over the business founded by his grandfather and embracing its history in order to bring it back to life.
Horse Soldier Bourbon President and CEO Scott Neil, AppHarvest CEO Jonathan Webb, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and SPEDA President and CEO Chris Girdler spotlighted Somerset throughout their time on stage, highlighting the community’s success in reviving its economy. Telling the stories of their businesses, Neil and Webb also explained why they chose to settle in Somerset, confirming that quality of life as a driver of growth was an important factor in their decision.
“We have been incredibly honored to host this summit and to be able to showcase how we have reinvented economic development in Somerset,” Girdler said. “It was great for us to be able to hear each other’s success stories, learn and share ideas, and be inspired by those who have paved the way to making rural America stronger. It was also refreshing to hear so many people from across the country affirming the importance of quality of life in economic development efforts – the affirmation that we are ahead of the curve in preparing our community for the future. .
In addition to the Centre, attendees were also welcomed to Somerset’s new downtown performance venue, The Virginia, for a networking and entertainment event. It was there that Neil introduced Whiskey & War Stories to a standing crowd, telling the story of a hand-picked detachment of 12 Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group who were the first to enter Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. . Later named the “Mounted Soldiers,” their clandestine mission marked the first time American troops had gone to war on horseback since World War II.
Upon retirement, several of these Horse Soldiers chose to go into bourbon making and have since committed to building a $250 million distillery experiment in Somerset overlooking Lake Cumberland. Neil was also able to share the latest news with the crowd: The Spirit of Gallo, the country’s fourth largest spirits supplier, had announced the day before that it would make a strategic investment in the Horse Soldier Bourbon brand and immediately begin distributing the brand in the United States.
“Virginia was such a fitting place for Scott to give his Whiskey & War Stories presentation, because the work that has gone into reviving our downtown and celebrating our community was a major factor in the company’s decision to invest in Somerset,” Girdler said. “So many first-time visitors to Somerset told us they loved hearing our story, experiencing our community and would return, a testament to the hard work and vision that is transforming our community.”