Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
Eastern Kentucky's Republican congressman and the state's Democratic governor announced Monday they are starting an effort to stimulate the economy of Appalachian Kentucky, which includes some of the nation's poorest counties.
|Appalachian Regional Commission map|
shows distressed counties in red.
The impetus for the effort is the recent loss of 6,000 jobs in East Kentucky's coal industry, which has dominated the region for a century but is suffering from depletion of easily mined coal, competition with natural gas, and new environmental regulations.
"With the difficulties in the coal industry . . . a lot of people are saying there's no hope for Appalachia," said Rogers, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. "They're saying the region's best days are over. Well, I say, hogwash." He said the region must "think outside the box." Only about half of Kentucky's Appalachian counties produce coal; Rogers once represented many of the non-coal Southern Kentucky counties and still looks after them in his powerful post.
Beshear said the region needs new strategies partly because "How we produce and consume energy is shifting, and the availability of government money has been sharply curtailed." However, the effort is being helped by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Rural Development branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The effort has been dubbed Shaping our Appalachian Region, with a logo showing an eagle soaring. Beshear said it began with a planning team of three dozen regional leaders, primarily from the private sector, including coal operator Jim Booth, this year's Kentucky Chamber of Commerce chairman. Booth said his company has survived by diversifying beyond coal, and the region needs to do likewise.
|Front row: Booth, Stumbo, Beshear, Rogers|
Chuck Fluharty, CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, said "I have never begun to work with a region in deeper need of very serious assessment for its future," but "I've never started with a region that has greater commitment to its purpose and greater political leadership."
UPDATE, Nov. 4: This effort and one to increase tourism in the region will depend largely on the efforts of people in individual communities, Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, writes in his fortnightly column for The Courier-Journal of Louisville.