Fulfilling the Promise Zone in eight Kentucky counties

Private companies from around the corner and across the globe; health-care organizations, educational institutions; local, state and federal government — they all believe in Eastern Kentucky. We know this not just by their words but by their deeds and their bank accounts.

It’s been a record year for the Kentucky Highlands Promise Zone: $220 million in investments were announced in 2016. That brings the total to more than $453 million since the federal Promise Zone designation began three years ago for the eight-county area of Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and part of Whitley counties.

In addition, private-sector, government and nonprofit partners have increased from 64 to 80.

We continue to gain momentum, forging additional partnerships and attracting new private and public funding.

There is more work to be done, but here are 10 ways we are building momentum in Eastern Kentucky. These are just some examples of the $220 million in commitments made in the Promise Zone counties in 2016:

1. Berea College will receive $30 million as one of six Promise Neighborhood grant recipients in the country. This cradle-to-career initiative will fund work in three school districts in Knox County, reaching 25 schools and more than 10,000 students to improve their educational achievement and healthy development.

2. A $12.5 million grant from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement will help develop the Appalachian Wildlife Center in Bell County. It is expected to attract 638,000 visitors annually by the fifth year of operation and generate more than $1 billion in regional economic activity in the first 10 years.

3. Euro Sticks Group, a French manufacturer of ice cream and coffee stir sticks, selected Corbin as its presence in North America. It will create 90 jobs and invest $15 million.

4. Harlan County Industrial Development Authority received a $2.52 million grant for an alternative energy manufacturing center. The funds will be used to leverage an additional $10.5 million in private investment from Harlan Wood Products to create 30 to 35 new jobs.

5. Final Mile: Promise Zone communities have been collaborating and planning for ways to extend the KyWired middle-mile dark-fiber system into downtown areas, industrial parks and centers of commerce. This local “final-mile” system is critical for providing high-speed, high capacity internet access.

6. A U.S. Department of Agriculture loan, along with strong partnerships among Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, First State Financial and Pineville Community Hospital, have saved more than 300 jobs and created 12 new jobs at the Pineville Community Hospital.

7. The Uplift America Fund has awarded $50 million to Fahe and $25 million to KHIC to be used as loans for community facility projects. It leverages federal low-interest loans, bank financing and private grants to target much-needed capital to persistently low-wealth areas, including the Promise Zone.

8. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camp: The University of Louisville and Partners for Education at Berea College helped 27 Promise Zone high school students attend a free summer camp at the Speed School of Engineering’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research.

9. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration awarded Baptist Health Foundation Corbin, Inc. a $1.2 million grant for expanding its telehealth network with infrastructure and personnel.

10. More than 200 people attended the first faith-based economic development summit “Jobs Wanted: Faithful Investing in Appalachia’s People.” The Kentucky Highlands Promise Zone and SOAR held the event.

Through these investments and others like them, combined with communities of hard-working people who persevere, we are improving the education, health and economic well-being of the region.

Jerry Rickett is president/CEO of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, the coordinating agency for the federal Promise Zone.