Op-Ed

Appalachian agency key to efforts to make region great again

Is the president keeping his promise to his Kentucky supporters to “Make America great again?”

Exactly what would that look like to Kentuckians?

It might look a little something like this: investing in entrepreneurial and business development to strengthen Appalachia’s economy; improving the education, knowledge, skills and health of residents; investing in critical infrastructure like broadband, transportation and water/wastewater systems; strengthening community and economic development by leveraging the Appalachian region’s natural and cultural heritage assets; and building the capacity and skills of current and next-generation leaders and organizations to innovate, collaborate and advance community economic development.

If that sounds like an excellent plan, you’ll be happy to learn that a move is already underway to accomplish those very things.

The Appalachian Regional Commission, whose 2016-2020 strategic plan includes all of the above, focuses on economic growth in 420 counties throughout the Appalachian region. It encompasses all of West Virginia, parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia among others. It receives the funding to do all this through the federal budget, $146 million.

According to its website, www.arc.gov, each year the commission provides funding for several hundred projects in the Appalachian region in a wide range of program areas including asset-based development, community infrastructure, education and training, energy, entrepreneurship and business development, health, tourism and development, transportation and highways, telecommunications and more.

Its Distressed Counties Program has provided funds for the region’s poorest counties since 1983. Kentucky counties constitute the largest contingent in the program with 37 counties being represented, including my very own county of residence, Powell.

The program began in 1983 by providing badly needed public services like water and wastewater facilities, and then in 2000 it expanded to include community workshops and activities to encourage community learning and leadership, as well as a telecommunications and information technology initiative. The technology initiative provides access and infrastructure, education and training, e-commerce and technology-sector job creation.

An example of how the commission’s health initiative is helping Kentuckians is a program called Bluegrass Child Advocacy Outreach. The program arose out of the high incidence of reported child-abuse cases. The commission contracted with the Children’s Advocacy Center of the Bluegrass to fund the project which is designed to recruit and train physicians so the victims of child sexual abuse receive the medical and psychological treatment they deserve, and to provide telemedicine equipment for consultations at remote sites to make more exams and services available to abused children.

A couple of other ways Kentucky benefits is the Kentucky Artisan Heritage Trails program, which created a driving tour from Interstate 75 to cultural heritage attractions and artisan businesses that bring in tourists, and the PRIDE program that was established in 1997 by Congressman Hal Rogers and state environmental secretary James Bickford to combat Eastern Kentucky’s pollution problems. It helps alleviate problems such as illegal trash dumps and raw sewage from straight-pipes and failing septic systems that contaminate streams, all of which deter tourism.

To help coal miners, the agency created an “energy blueprint” for Appalachia to provide the framework for the promotion of energy related job opportunities through sustainable energy production, efficiency and innovation. It’s helping coal miners learn new trades and skills still within the energy field, but outside the dwindling coal industry.

Given all this information, one just may be under the impression that President Donald Trump is indeed keeping his promises to the voters of Kentucky, right? Well, think again. Trump’s new budget would eliminate hundreds of programs and agencies, 62 of them right off the bat.

Have you guessed it yet? Yes, one of the first to be eliminated is the Appalachian Regional Commission.

So, is Trump keeping his promise to his Kentucky voters? Looks like that’s a big fat “no.”

And the beat goes on...

Renee’ Marcum-Losey of Powell County is a writer and school district payroll officer.

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