Celebrating Kentucky Growth and Shaping Our Future: Ashland Plays Host to the SOAR Regional Business Pitch Competition

Celebrating Kentucky Growth and Shaping Our Future

Ashland Plays Host to the SOAR Regional Business Pitch Competition

By: Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon

1st Place

In the heart of Eastern Kentucky, amid the backdrop of economic challenges and job losses, a resilient spirit thrives. Despite the harsh blows dealt by shifting industries and fluctuating economies, the region is witnessing a remarkable resurgence, thanks in part to the steadfast efforts of a collective known as Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR). SOAR serves 54 Appalachian counties throughout Eastern Kentucky with its mission “to combat population loss in Eastern Kentucky by investing in existing communities and attracting new residents.” SOAR recently hosted a dynamic business pitch competition Thursday, April 11 at the Depot in Ashland where aspiring entrepreneurs gathered to showcase their groundbreaking ideas and vie for a chance to turn their dreams into reality.


Six groups of entrepreneurs from across the region stepped onto the stage to pitch their business concepts to a panel of esteemed judges and a captivated audience. From innovative tech startups to artisanal crafts ventures, the diversity of ideas presented reflected the boundless potential of the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem. As the pitches unfolded, each group of presenters demonstrated not only their passion for their respective ventures but also their deep connection to the Appalachian region. Whether it was a commitment to preserving local heritage or a vision for harnessing emerging technologies to drive economic growth, the entrepreneurs showcased their unwavering dedication to making a positive impact on their communities.

Thanks to Community Trust Bank, the six finalists were competing for a total of $20,000 in prize money that they would be able to take and use for the getting their business ideas off the ground. The six finalists were:

Sunhouse Craft is founded by Cynthia Main from Berea Kentucky. Sunhouse Craft is a sustainable artisan manufacturing business. Specializing in traditional craft techniques, Sunhouse Craft creates handmade brooms and wooden wares, sourcing materials locally to support regional farmers and promote a thriving, local economy.

Sylvatica Forest Farm is founded by Joana Amorim and Michael Beck from Mount Vernon Kentucky. Armorim and Beck operate a 50-member Herbal CSA, a small-scale fruit/nut/native’s tree nursery, a mushroom farm and an apothecary. Their mission is to educate and inspire others about the importance of herbalism, land stewardship and conservation.

DAAD Distilling is founded by Aaron Floyd. Discover the unique blend of tradition and innovation with Aaron Floyd of DAAD Distilling Co. LLC in Lancaster. Aaron brings over a decade of experience to crafting premium bourbon with a mission to inspire and contribute to the community. What sets DAAD apart is not just their premium high-corn bourbon with its distinctive buttery taste and savory finish, but their commitment to creating an immersive visitor experience amid the scenic beauty of Eastern Kentucky, complete with a botanical garden, arboretum, and a dedication to community service and environmental conservation.

Complet3D is owned by Eric Sparks. As an additive manufacturing engineer and Manchester native, Sparks envisions Kentucky as an advanced manufacturing hub. Through Complet3D, he helps professionals succeed in the additive manufacturing world, providing strategic advice, selling 3D printers and maintaining the technology.

Hazard Coffee Company is founded by Stephen and Maggie Prosser. Hazard Coffee Company is a specialty coffee shop and roastery. Using a data-driven approach, they offer high-quality coffee while creating a welcoming space dedicated to community.

Insight Emergency Solutions is led by Corey Shepherd and West Carter High School students Abby Daniel, Claire Holbrook and Rylyn Rayburn. They are revolutionizing emergency response with their 3D virtual structural models. Their innovative program provides 3D virtual structural models to first responders, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency planning.

            After each of the finalist groups had finished making their presentations to the judges, it was time for the panel of judges to deliberate. The panel of judges included: Natalie Heighton, Commercial Loan Officer for Community Trust Bank INC., Kevin Halter, Chief Executive Office for the Bon Secours Kentucky Health System and Lisa Bajorinas, Executive Director for the Kentucky Innovation Hubs Kentucky Science & Technology Corp. Third place and $1500.00 went to Sunhouse Craft. Second place with a $3500.00 cash prize went to Insight Emergency Solutions. Complet3D took home the first-place award with a cash prize of $10,000. The audience also had their chance to vote for the “Crowd Favorite,” which came with a cash prize of $500.00. Insight Emergency was crowned the honor of being the “Crowd Favorite.”

As the Appalachian region continues to evolve and adapt to the challenges of the modern world, events like these remind us that the spirit of entrepreneurship and the drive for progress will always endure in the hills of Appalachia. Sabrina McWhorter, Director of Business and Innovation for SOAR, shared, “What an incredible night with incredible presentations. If there is one thing that I want, you to take away from this evening… it is that Kentucky is full of opportunities.”

Put the Pen to the Paper and Write: Dogwood Writing Conference to be held in Greenup County April 27

Put the Pen to the Paper and Write

Dogwood Writing Conference to be held in Greenup County April 27

By Pamela Hall

The Ashland Beacon

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Are you an avid reader who wants to begin writing your own books? Have you often read something and thought that you could write something similar or possibly even better? Do you have ideas for a story but aren’t sure how to get started? If so, the Dogwood Writing Conference is the place for you!

The Dogwood Writing Conference, presented by the KYOWA Writers Group, will be held this year Saturday, April 27 at the Greenup County Public Library in downtown Greenup. The conference begins at 9 a.m. and goes until about 4 p.m.  Preregistration is $50, or registration at the door begins at 8:30 and is $55. The cost also includes lunch. A registration form can be found on the Dogwood Writing Conference Facebook page.


The Dogwood Writing Conference began in 1999 when the KYOWA Writers Group saw the need for a local conference with a lineup of top-quality professional writers that was affordable for those interested without having the expense of traveling. That is still the mission of the Dogwood Writing Conference.

The annual event has gained popularity among local writers, offering knowledgeable speakers covering various topics aimed at assisting writers in techniques, getting published and more. This year’s speakers are an outstanding group that you won’t want to miss.

J.M. Madden is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She writes compelling romances, with a bit of suspense thrown in for good measure, between “combat-modified” military men and the women who love them. Madden worked as a deputy sheriff in Ohio for nine years before moving to Kentucky with her husband and family for his job. She continually works at perfecting her craft and overcoming her addiction to office supplies.

Stephen M. Vest is the editor and publisher of Kentucky Monthly magazine. The magazine won the Governor’s Award in the Arts (Media) in 2005. Vest is also the author of several books including Unexpected Inheritance, a memoir about being raised by older parents and a hard-to-please grandmother.

 “We're really excited about being able to offer such a great program here in our own area,” said Cathie Shaffer, President of the KYOWA Writers Group. “These featured speakers bring incredible experience and talent, and we're thrilled to have them with us.”

There will also be a critique panel for those wishing to get feedback on something they have written. Those wanting to participate should bring two or three pages of their writing, which will be read to the panel for their thoughts and input, as well as give pointers on how to improve. No author names are given for this session.

Whether you are interested in writing romance, suspense, historical fiction or something in the non-fiction genre, such as magazine and newspaper articles or memoirs, there is something for everyone at this year’s Dogwood Writing Conference. The conference is also a chance to network with other local writers. It helps to rejuvenate and fan the spark of creativity as well. The day will benefit both beginner and established writers.

“One becomes a writer by putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard,” Shaffer stated. “This event is an opportunity to hone the craft and to talk with other writers in a comfortable, easy atmosphere. Over our 20-year history, the Dogwood Writing Conference has helped a number of authors find their way to publication.”

Don’t miss the Dogwood Writing Conference, Saturday, April 27 at 9 a.m. at the Greenup County Public Library in downtown Greenup. You may be the next local writer to become a published author!

Ashland’s Trailblazing Visionary Brandy Clark’s Impact on the Revitalization of Ashland

Ashland’s Trailblazing Visionary

Brandy Clark’s Impact on the Revitalization of Ashland

By: Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon

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This week on "The Road," we delve into the concept of trailblazing and the power of embracing change, even if it's unconventional. Adapting to change opens doors to incredible opportunities within your community. What defines a "trailblazer?" To earn such a title is indeed a significant accolade. It signifies being recognized as a forward-thinking individual who pioneers new paths, sets trends, and creates innovative solutions to complex and often outdated problems.

Trailblazers are known for their courage, vision, and determination to explore uncharted territory and challenge the status quo. Challenging the status quo requires grit and a willingness to take risks, as it often involves confronting resistance, facing criticism, and overcoming obstacles. For many trailblazers, this road can be bumpy at times. However, it can also lead to meaningful progress, innovation, and positive change that can benefit individuals, organizations, and even entire communities as a whole.


No one understands how important being open to change is quite like one local trailblazer Brandy Clark, who is the Executive Director of Visit, Ashland KY. Clark was born in Misawa Japan, yet she was raised right here in the heart of Boyd County and is a graduate of Boyd County High School graduating class of 1995. It wasn’t until 2020 that Clark took over the position of Executive Director of Tourism. She shared, “I didn't start working for Visit Ashland until early 2020. A family member was part of the Tourism Board, and he recommended I get involved with the Tourism Commission that was going through some rebranding and changes at the time.  During that time, the current director decided to retire, and I applied for the position and was hired.”

 Prior to becoming the Executive Director of Tourism for Visit AKY, Clark worked a variety of different jobs growing up. Clark shared, “I’ve have worked several jobs since I graduated college.  I've cut grass at a local golf course, worked a register at Clark's Pump-N-Shop, and even worked from home as a software installer and support technician.” Clark is no stranger to putting in a hard day’s work.

For Clark, having the opportunity to serve the city of Ashland as the Executive Director of Tourism is one of the most rewarding experiences and something that she enjoys. “I am very passionate about our community and our city.  I absolutely love promoting my hometown, planning events, and working with my friends,” explained Clark.

City Commissioner, Josh Blanton spoke very highly of Clark during a recent interview stating, “Brandy took full ownership of tourism in Ashland from the day she started as director. She has taken our city to a new level using marketing standards such as branding and communication alignment to not just provide information but also to help citizens create events themselves. She came along at just the right time, and we are blessed to have her.”

 One of the most rewarding parts of Clark's job is witnessing the reaction of people within the community when they see all that our beautiful city of Ashland has to offer. “We have so many attractions here to be proud of:  The Paramount Arts Center, Sandy's Racing and Gaming, Rush Off-Road, the Highlands Museum, the Clark Family Discovery Center, Camp Landing, and The Ashland Town Center. Did you know that Ashland offers the only indoor shopping center in Eastern Kentucky?  Going west, the next location would be Lexington,” Clark elaborated.

Working alongside city, county, and regional tourism, Clark feels our area is extremely lucky. “We have different approaches to how we do things, but we complement each other well. Together, we have a community and a town that is truly worthy of being proud of.”

 Clark understands that true success lies in creating a vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable community where all residents can thrive. Under Clark's leadership, the city of Ashland has witnessed a rather significant surge in visitor numbers and economic growth over the last few years. Hotels and restaurants have flourished, and local businesses have benefited from increased foot traffic. In addition, the city has gained a reputation as a model for what small-town revitalization should look like, attracting attention from tourism professionals and entrepreneurs across the country.

One of the things that has seemed to put Ashland on the map is the unconditional support that the city, locals, and visitors alike give to the area’s local artists. Downtown Ashland is full of vibrant murals everywhere you turn, and the city takes great pride in the fact that the area's local artists are doing more than just surviving… they are thriving!

With the City’s newly found slogan, “Create with Us,” Ashland Kentucky has truly become an artistic hotspot. “We have so much excitement and momentum in our area right now.  My hope is that we are looked upon as THE destination in the Tri-State area for creativity, entertainment, and adventure,” Clark shared. From revitalizing historic landmarks to supporting arts and cultural events, Clark has curated an authentic and immersive experience that showcases the best of what Ashland has to offer.

Another contributing factor to the city’s successful revitalization over the years is the unique, fun-filled events Clark has worked tirelessly alongside her Visit AKY team to bring to the area. Events such as the Fox Fire Music and Arts Festival, First Fridays, Market on the Square, and the countless shows that have been brought in to perform at the iconic Paramount Arts Center, just to name a few, have been wildly popular with not only the city’s residents but also residents from surrounding counties.

Coming up with amazing events requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work that most may not be aware of. “A lot of phone calls, paperwork, creativity, planning, preparation, coordination, and more planning goes into each of our events.  We put a lot of heart into trying to make our events unique, fun, and as inexpensive as possible. We just want locals and visitors to have fun and enjoy their time here in Ashland,” Clark stated.

Clark was quick to point out that without the support of local government, businesses, and the amazing individuals that make up this vibrant community none of this would have been made possible.  Clark noted, “While we are not affiliated with the City of Ashland Government, we work closely with them to promote the city as a destination.  We would not be successful if we didn't have the support and encouragement given to us by the officials and all the departments in the City of Ashland Government.”

In addition to support from local government, Clark wanted to note that citizen involvement is just as crucial. The best way for locals to support their hometown is to get out and support the people within it. Invest in a city that isn’t afraid to invest in you! Clark shared, “Some of our most popular events have come from the ideas of some of our citizen creators that don't have the contacts and the means to make an event come to life.  They bring the idea to us, and we help them make it happen.  Examples of Citizen Creator Events have been the Pink Weekend, Taylor Swift Night, Latin Night Live, Cosmic Holler Film Fest.”

            The most inspiring part about the legacy Clark is unfolding for the city lies in the spirit of optimism and possibility that she has instilled within the people of Ashland. A “sky is the limit” type of attitude if you will, has been instilled throughout the community and it has sparked a bit of a wildfire within the area’s locals. Through Clark's unwavering leadership, she has inspired residents to dream big, embrace change, and work together to shape a brighter future for their city. Her unwavering commitment to Ashland's success serves as a testament to the transformative power of visionary leadership and community-driven initiatives.

Mayor Matt Perkins commented, “Brandy Clark is a champion for Ashland and Eastern KY. Her dedication and efforts have undoubtedly enhanced our city, attracting more visitors, boosting local businesses, and enriching our community's cultural landscape. Brandy's leadership has been instrumental in showcasing Ashland's unique charm and ensuring its continued prosperity.”  The city’s best days lie ahead as Ashland continues to evolve and thrive under Clark's guidance. With a visionary like Clark at the wheel, Ashland is being driven down the path to achieve even greater heights of success, prosperity, and fulfillment for generations to come.

A Day to “Paws” and Reflect Celebrating National Pet Day

A Day to “Paws” and Reflect

Celebrating National Pet Day

By: Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon


On April 11, 2024, pet lovers across the nation will come together to celebrate National Pet Day, which is a time to honor the furry, feathered, and finned companions that enrich our lives in countless ways. From loyal dogs to playful cats, from chirping birds to slithering reptiles, pets hold a special place in our hearts, offering companionship, comfort, and unconditional love.

The bond between humans and animals is profound and enduring, dating back thousands of years to the earliest days of civilization. From serving as hunting partners and protectors to providing warmth and companionship, animals have played a vital role in human history and culture.


Today, the importance and emotional need of owning a pet remains as relevant as ever. At the heart of the bond between humans and pets lies the enduring connection forged through companionship and mutual affection. Whether it's the enthusiastic greeting of a dog wagging its tail or the soothing purr of a cat curled up in your lap, the presence of a pet has a remarkable ability to brighten even the darkest of days.

The benefits of having a furry-faced companion extend far beyond mere companionship. Research has shown that having a pet can have a positive impact on our physical and mental well-being, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress and anxiety, and even boosting immunity. Pets encourage us to be more active, to spend time outdoors, and to form meaningful connections with others in our community. Pets simply make life more enjoyable.

Whether your choice of companion barks, meows, or moos, one thing is for sure and that is pets teach us valuable lessons about responsibility, empathy, and compassion. Caring for a pet requires commitment, patience, and a willingness to put its needs above our own. Whether it's feeding, grooming, or training, the care and attention we give to our pets fosters a sense of responsibility and empathy that extends to other areas of our lives.

As National Pet Day is just right around the corner, let us take a moment to reflect on the impact that pets have on our lives and the world around us. Whether they're providing comfort to the sick, companionship to the lonely, or simply a source of joy and laughter to those around them, pets are truly deserving of our love and gratitude.

So, if you're a proud pet owner or simply a lover of all creatures great and small, take some time on April 11th to celebrate the furry, feathered, and finned friends that bring so much joy to our lives. Whether it's a walk in the park with your dog, a cozy cuddle session with your cat, or simply a moment of quiet reflection, let us honor the bond between humans and animals and the profound significance of pets in our lives.

          Another great way to celebrate National Pet Day would be to visit your local animal shelter and spend some time with the beautiful fur babies that would love to share their love with you. Who knows you might even find your new best friend staring back at you.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul

remains unawakened.”- Anatole France

Twice As Nice Local Literary Phenom Releases Two Books in One Year

Twice As Nice

Local Literary Phenom Releases Two Books in One Year

By: Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon


 In a world where storytelling knows no bounds, one young author is carving out a niche all her own, blending the intoxicating allure of romance with the heart-pounding excitement of thrills and suspense. With a pen in hand and a passion for storytelling in her heart, Rhiannon McGuire is captivating readers with tales that transport them to worlds of love, danger, and intrigue.

McGuire, a native of Flatwoods Kentucky and a graduate of Russell High School, is a literary trailblazer whose unique voice and boundless imagination have catapulted her into the spotlight as one of the most exciting young authors of her generation. With each stroke of the pen and push of the keyboard, McGuire weaves a tapestry of emotions, drawing readers into a world where love blossoms amid danger, and every twist and turn leaves them breathless for more.


At just 25 years of age, McGuire has already done what many set out to do but very few accomplish- publishing not one but two books in under a year. McGuire’s love of literature began at a very early age. At twelve, McGuire and a close friend often wrote short fan fiction-type stories to read back and forth with one another. That’s when McGuire’s love of writing took flight.

After the birth of her son, McGuire expressed an interest to her husband about the possibility of writing a book. She was quickly met with nothing short of encouragement, so she embarked on her journey to becoming an author and sharing her talent with the literary world.

McGuire’s first book, entitled Wrenches, is a stand-alone spicy romance that keeps you on the edge of your seat with each page you turn. Wrenches came out on Jan. 10, 2024, and is available for purchase on Amazon as well as Amazon’s Kindle service.

Following the success of her debut novel, Rhiannon is poised to captivate readers once again with her latest literary offering, entitled No Funny Business, which became available for purchase on Feb. 14, 2024, on Amazon and the Amazon Kindle platform. No Funny Business is the perfect blend of romance and suspense that is sure to be a real page turner.

McGuire’s literary journey doesn't end with the publication of her second book — that’s just the beginning. To celebrate the launch of No Funny Business, McGuire will be hosting a book signing event on April 13, 2024, from noon to 2 p.m. at Broadway Books, which is located at 1537 Winchester Ave, Ashland Ky, 41101. The book signing is the perfect opportunity for everyone to meet the author, get their books signed, and share in the excitement of the occasion.

For McGuire, the book signing event is more than just a celebration of her own success — it's a chance to give back to the community that has supported her throughout her journey as an author. By sharing her stories and connecting with readers, she hopes to inspire others to pursue their own creative passions and embrace the power of storytelling to enrich their lives.

McGuire explained, “What I would say to anyone that is looking to get started in writing is to just not rush it. Take your time and write things down as they come to you. Start out by writing things in a note pad or in your phone’s notes. It can be something as small as a paragraph. If you are looking for inspiration, you can find it all around. Pinterest is a really great place to get inspired.”

As she prepares to embark on this new chapter of her literary career, McGuire is filled with gratitude for the opportunity to share her voice with the world. With her second book just recently launched and her first book signing event on the horizon, she is ready to take the literary world by storm and continue her journey as a rising star in the world of literature.

McGuire has plans of branching out to other genres with her writing and already has another book in the works. With each new book she releases, McGuire proves that age is no barrier to success and that the power of storytelling knows no bounds. Whether she's writing tales of romance or thrills, one thing is certain — Rhiannon McGuire is a rising star whose literary journey is only just beginning.