Today at the Appalachian Leadership Institute was a very full day of speakers, discussion and a field trip. We heard from the Mayor of Morehead, the President of Morehead State University, and the Federal Co-Chairman, Appalachian Regional Commission. We had a panel discussion about the past, present and future of Appalachia. The surprising guest speakers were Robert M. Duncan, Chairman, Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service who introduced Megan J. Brennan, Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Postal Service. After lunch we had breakout panel discussions about leadership, developing a shared vision, and started a session long activity on back casting a vision for Appalachia. We ended the day with a visit to Gateway Regional Arts Center in Mt Sterling.
The panel discussion about the Past, Present and Future of Appalachian was very interesting. Of course the history of the region goes back to the founding of the nation and earlier. In some ways the area is determined by the geography and how it played a role in development, such as trains, roads and town settlement. But for me the really interesting portion was the work by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., Executive and Chief Futurist, Rural Futures Institute. Not having met a “futurist” before, it was exciting to hear about how this region could develop out of its historic bounds and no longer be determined by history. We talked through how we can create a model for rural America in Appalachia that can extend to other areas. But to do that we will need to build a diverse vision that covers many areas. We cannot rely on just one element in the same way, for example that coal was a primary economic driver. We need to build on many fronts, such as with rural broadband and partner with high tech companies. Following this panel, we had the opportunity to listen to the USPS Postmaster General Megan Brennan, who as the 1st female Postmaster General, had a lot of great experience to share about building leadership and diversity. I was able to ask about the possibility of returning to postal banking which Senator Kirstin Gillibrand and others have proposed. 59% of the country are in banking deserts. She was not supportive of the idea since it is not a core competency of the postal service. We chatted a bit more about it after the panel.
Throughout the afternoon, we participated in a number of group activities focused on leadership and vision. In order for us to know where we are heading and how we can get there, we need to have a vision. We started an exercise that will span the remaining days that will backcast a vision for Appalachia. We are projecting both a light and a dark vision for the region 30 years in the future and then working backwards from there to both see how we can move towards the light vision and move away from the dark one. It is a very interesting exercise that has proposed some very direct and engaging discussion. Of course none of us want or expect to see a dark vision for our region but by having both in mind, we can work to avoid it. The day wrapped up with a great reception with local officials in Mt Sterling. We will be going back there tomorrow because this community has been moving forward in their transformation and have a number of successes to show us. A long but very engaging day,