Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Employment and education opportunities in Central Appalachia are looking more high-tech

A recent conference in Eastern Kentucky examined ways to revitalize the Central Appalachian economy through job creation and education opportunities in the coal-depleted region. "Big Ideas Fest for Appalachia: Visionary Thinking and Doing" brought together 200 people, including students and teachers, to discuss opportunities to improve the region, while also presenting ideas already in place that are benefiting communities, Tom Eblen reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"The best parts of the conference were the reports from students and teachers about how they are learning new technology," Eblen writes. One such project is, an online social learning network that enables "young people and their teachers throughout Central Appalachia’s distant 'hollers' to share ideas, learn about new technology and see what each other are doing with it."

Jay Williams, assistant U.S. commerce secretary for the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and Hal Heiner, secretary of Kentucky’s Education and Workforce Cabinet, spoke about Appalachia’s possibilities, Eblen writes. "Heiner focused on helping students earn some college credits while in high school to help encourage them to move on to post-secondary education, either at college or technical schools, which he thinks haven’t been valued enough as a career pathway. Williams, a former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, discussed the similarities between the collapse of the steel-making industry in his hometown and Eastern Kentucky’s coal industry."

"Speakers from Appalachia talked about the need for more cooperation among counties and regions and more long-term investments in the future, especially for technology infrastructure such as high-speed broadband," Eblen reports. "Rather than trying to bring a lot of outside industry into the region—a strategy that has met little success—many people have focused on developing entrepreneurship among people who already live here and want to stay. The key is not just creating small companies to meet local needs, but to produce goods and services that can be exported to bring more wealth into the region."

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