Thursday, May 25, 2017

'Silver BBs,' not silver bullets, offered as hope for Eastern Kentucky after collapse of its coal economy

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As Eastern Kentucky looks for a way to recover from a historic collapse of its coal economy, lots of new ideas are being tried or ventured, Adrian Campo-Flores reports in a roundup for The Wall Street Journal. “There’s no silver bullet to solve this,” said Peter Hille, president of the Berea-based Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which finances and/or advises ventures in the region, told Campo-Flores. “But there could be a thousand silver BBs.”

Students at Interapt (Reuters photo by Valerie Volcovici)
Some groups are training former coal miners and others people to write software code. "Interapt, a Louisville technology company, created an intensive 32-week classroom and internship program in Paintsville that received federal and local funding, and pays $400 a week," the Journal reports. "The first class, which started with 50 people selected from 800 applicants, just completed the program, and Interapt has offered jobs to 22 of them so far, said Chief Operating Officer Eric Seto. Others have found work elsewhere." One Interapt developer is Alex Hughes, who ran an animation business in Prestonsburg until the coal swoon killed it. “This is a start of this new ecosystem that we’re trying to create here,” he told Campo-Flores.

Hazard Community and Technical College has trained 180 laid-off miners to work as electric linemen, and the program has a 90 percent placement rate, President Jennifer Lindon said. "Anthony Bowling . . . is happy with the pay—$18 more an hour than he earned as a miner," Campo-Floes reports. In a more innovative program, the college "has teamed up with local county governments and other entities to create a local drone training and testing facility on a former strip mine. The area—secluded, with varied topography and devoid of air traffic—is well-suited to companies seeking to develop and test unmanned aerial vehicles, said Bart Massey, operations manager for the proposed $11 million project."

Campo-Flores also notes AppHarvest, first reported on The Rural Blog March 9, which is raising money to build high-tech greenhouse on a reclaimed strip mine.

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