Investment grows, impact shows in Appalachian Promise Zone

Jerry Rickett
Jerry Rickett

As our commonwealth and country were captivated by “The Voice from Appalachia,” Jordan Smith, there are encouraging efforts that are giving Appalachians a strong voice in their future — and another reason to celebrate.

In fact, there are 223 million reasons to celebrate because we are attracting outside investment as never before: More than $223 million in funding has been announced in the eight-county Promise Zone since its designation by the Obama administration two years ago.

That means programs in Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and part of Whitley are seeing greater investments in areas such as online learning and other education initiatives, workforce training, business financing, broadband, infrastructure projects, tourism, housing and energy-efficiency projects.

The funds — which will be spent within the next five to seven years — come from a combination of federal grants, private foundations, federal loans, private investments and other sources of money from outside the Promise Zone.

The accomplishments are due to the hard work of our partners and community leaders who have devoted their resources, time and expertise to leveraging this opportunity. The number of private-sector, government and nonprofit partners has increased by more than 50 percent in one year — from 42 partners to 64.

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.

Highlights of the $114 million in commitments made in the Promise Zone counties in the second year included:

▪  $30 million in private investments from Keeneland Racing Association for the Thunder Gap racetrack in Knox County.

▪  $19.9 million dollars in assistance for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) recipients in the Promise Zone to find employment opportunities through Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program and the state of Kentucky.

▪  $1 million POWER initiative that the Kentucky Cabinet for Finance and Administration received for “Unleashing the Power of the I-way,” which will maximize Shaping our Appalachian Region’s KentuckyWired broadband project. Promise Zone counties will be included in the first area to be built.

▪  $20.7 million from U.S. Department of Agriculture to help more than 200 families with homeownership and home repairs; assist businesses with financing and energy-efficiency improvements; and aid communities with water and sewer infrastructure projects.

▪  Trail Town designations for Manchester and Harlan County’s Tri Cities, which will help increase tourism by being included in the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism state maps, visitor’s guides and other state promotional materials as adventure tourism destinations.

The Promise Zone has received attention from across the country and around the globe. For example, a journalist and film crew from Singapore toured the region as part of a story on how America reinvents itself.

In addition, the federal Environmental Protection Agency included Corbin as one of a handful of communities it is profiling on how local foods are revitalizing downtown economies.

Through our strong partnerships and cooperation, the Promise Zone is helping the region attract investment that is focused on creating sustainable economic stability and opportunity. Business investment, workforce training and education, and reliable infrastructure are a strong foundation for a bright future.

Learn more by visiting www.kypromisezone.com, following the Kentucky Promise Zone Facebook page, and participating in one of the annual listening sessions or periodic visits being held in each county.

Jerry Rickett is president and CEO of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, which is coordinating and managing the federal Promise Zone.