Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Southeastern Ky. and Choctaw Nation are rural 'Promise Zones' in first batch Obama will name today

Today, exactly 50 years after then-President Johnson declared war on poverty, President Obama will announce five "Promise Zones" that "will get priority when seeking federal money for job training, education, housing and other programs," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The zones will be eight chronically poor southeastern Kentucky counties ht hard by a sharp downturn in the Central Appalachian coal industry; the Choctaw Nation in southeastern Oklahoma; and parts of Philadelphia, San Antonio and Los Angeles. Obama announced the program a year ago; these are the first five areas picked for it.

"The federal government has tried a number of ways over decades to revitalize distressed areas, and many of those previous efforts focused on a particular strategy," Chris Casteel reports for the Tulsa World. "Obama's zones are meant to adopt a communitywide approach to improve education, housing and public safety."

Zones must "meet certain poverty levels and have fewer than 200,000 residents," so only part of Whitley County in Kentucky was included, Estep reports. The other counties in the Kentucky zone are Bell, Knox, Clay, Leslie, Perry, Harlan and Letcher, Jerry Rickett of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp. told Estep.

Rickett is president and CEO of the venture-capital nonprofit, which was created by the War on Poverty in 1969 and serves 22 counties in southeastern Kentucky. It supervised an Empowerment Zone project in Clinton, Wayne and Jackson counties during the Clinton administration and was the lead applicant for the Promise Zone.

The plan "includes a $1.3 million loan fund for small businesses; expanded job and entrepreneurship training; college- and career-readiness programs in high schools; and increased technical-education programs, according to the White House," Estep writes. "The program also envisions working to improve housing and reduce crime."

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky "said the initiative will complement another called SOAR, for Shaping Our Appalachian Region, that he and Republican U.S. Rep. Harold 'Hal' Rogers set up with the goal of drafting a development strategy for Eastern Kentucky," Estep reports.

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