It's been a year of firsts for Kentucky's Promise Zone. We've hired a coordinator, created a strategic plan, established six working committees and held meetings in each of the zone's eight Southeastern Kentucky counties.
Last year, President Barack Obama announced that Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and part of Whitley would become one of five new federal Promise Zones. The area will gain a competitive advantage in applying for federal funds and assistance from federal agencies that oversee housing, education, economic development, agriculture and safety. The agencies also will help the counties maximize federal and private investment.
We've listened. We've collaborated. We've planned. And those efforts are paying off.
Programs in the Promise Zone have attracted more than $109 million in funding. Investments already are being made in education, medical facilities, college and career readiness, online information technology degree and certificate programs, workforce training, health and anti-drug initiatives, and housing and energy-efficiency projects. Some of highlights include:
■ More than $44 million in grants that support a college-going culture and mental health initiatives.
■ $23 million for work on the Knox County Hospital, which will improve medical care and save more than 200 jobs.
■ An announcement that Kowa Kentucky will open its first North American plant in Corbin, a facility to manufacture surface treatment for automotive suppliers, creating 30 jobs. It is the first Japanese company to locate in the Promise Zone.
■ Co-investment from state and federal governments in local companies such as Phillips Diversified, headquartered in Manchester. Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation completed two loans last year with Phillips — one in partnership with the Economic Development Cabinet and the other with U.S. Department of Agriculture to create about 40 jobs.
■ Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced the construction contract for phase one of the broadband initiative as part of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, which includes Promise Zone counties.
The Kentucky Promise Zone has held listening sessions for adults and youth in each of the counties. That information was used to create a strategic plan, approved by our advisory committee last fall, that identifies partners for every goal.
We have formed working committees around the six key areas identified in our application — agriculture/healthy foods, communication (broadband), education, economic development, housing and health care.
With input and effort from the entire community, we are well on our way to creating and implementing a sustainable, measurable strategy for the future. Strong partnerships reflect commitment and indicate the likelihood of success. Kentucky Highlands is coordinating and managing the process, but the number of partners has grown from 12 to 42 — ranging from the private sector to local governments to nonprofits.
The USDA has given priority to the five Promise Zones and has hired a federal coordinator. Its Kentucky office also has helped with our rollout. We will leverage public and private investment to achieve locally driven initiatives that lead to a stronger, sustainable economy.
The promise is federal, the plan is regional and the impact will be felt in communities, schoolrooms and homes throughout the zone.
Learn more at www.kypromisezone.com and by participating in our listening sessions or visits held in each county.