Digital Economy Efforts Spotlighted During 2017 Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit

Efforts in Eastern Kentucky to prepare the region’s workforce for new jobs in the digital economy were spotlighted at the 2017 Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit, held Friday, Aug. 4 at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville.

Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc., presented during the summit’s innovation showcase on the main stage, where he specifically highlighted Teleworks USA and the TechHire Eastern Kentucky initiative.

“Developing our regional workforce to compete and succeed in the digital economy is among our region’s highest priorities,” said Whitehead.

Through partnerships with local governments, the private sector, and other community partners, EKCEP has been able to bring seven Telework USA Hubs to the East Kentucky coalfields since January 2015, Whitehead said.

An initiative of EKCEP, Teleworks USA identifies and develops legitimate remote-work, distance learning opportunities, and helps to prepare people for the jobs with workshops in customer service and digital literacy, working with participants on creating résumés and developing superior interviewing skills, then applying for and obtaining legitimate work-from-home positions through its website,

As of August 2017, more than 1,000 people have used Teleworks USA to find gainful employment with global employers that they would not have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise.

“The 1,002 telework jobs represent an estimated $20 million of annual income into our region from employers not physically located here,” Whitehead said.

Also focused on preparing workers to take advantage of job opportunities in the technology field, TechHire Eastern Kentucky is a multi-sector effort designed to meet the demand of open IT jobs through increased access to accelerated technology training, including “coding bootcamps” and quality, fast-track online courses designed to be completed in a few months in lieu of a four-year degree.

EKCEP is the strategic community and regional lead for TechHire Eastern Kentucky, which also includes partnerships with tech and tech-related employers, educational institutions, and economic and workforce development organizations.

“TechHire is at the center of our efforts to accelerate the creation of talent for mid- to high-level IT (information technology) jobs,” Whitehead said.

Since TechHire’s inception in 2015, 39 Eastern Kentuckians have received jobs in IT—jobs that average $42,000 annually.

“That’s another $1.6 million in wages being earned in careers that were not available in our region just three years ago,” Whitehead said.

Just days prior to the SOAR Summit, seven Eastern Kentuckians completed a TechHire Eastern Kentucky-affiliated internship with CentralApp Technologies after earning multiple certifications in the global Salesforce platform. Those individuals exited the program as immediate employees of CentralApp.

“If we can succeed at this level,” Whitehead spoke to the crowd at the event, lowering then raising his hand, “there’s no reason we can’t succeed at this level.

“We’ve succeeded at a high level—we’re getting jobs, and we’ve not reached the ceiling yet,” he said.

The future for TechHire Eastern Kentucky is bright, Whitehead explained, announcing that new TechHire training classes would begin in spring 2018 with a new consortium of businesses and partners involved in shaping the region’s tech future with EKCEP.

“If you are working remotely, if you are a partner in government, a telecom, community agency, one of our managers—if you are involved in any way with this success, this is what SOAR is all about,” he said.

EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves the citizens of 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services, administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program for dislocated coal miners and their spouses, and is the White House-designated lead organization for the federal TechHire designation for Eastern Kentucky. Learn more about us at, and