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Local support for POWER+ Plan growing like wildfire

Local support for POWER+ Plan growing like wildfire

Support for the POWER+ Plan is picking up steam in Central Appalachia, as several localities have now passed resolutions in support of the plan. The Norton, Va., City Council became the first in the nation to pass a resolution supporting the POWER+ Plan in July. They were joined shortly after by the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission and the Wise County Board of Supervisors in Virginia. City Councils in Whitesburg and Benham, Ky., passed similar resolutions last week, and have been followed this week by the Kentucky Fiscal Courts of Letcher and Harlan Counties, and the Campbell County Commission in Tennessee. In each case, the resolutions passed unanimously, which goes to show that local leaders have no qualms about accepting assistance for their communities when it is desperately needed. They live with the reality of coal’s collapse surrounding them every day, and they know the billions of dollars being offered to Central Appalachia through the POWER+ Plan would be an enormous help in bolstering their local economies. Mountain people might be prideful, but they also aren’t too proud to accept help when it comes, no matter from where it derives. The resolutions being passed are worth quoting: “The POWER+ Plan includes programs that would disburse $1 billion in funding for Abandoned Mine Land (AML) projects that create long-term business and economic opportunities; would invest millions in workforce development and job training programs in communities impacted by the decline of the coal industry; and would strengthen the health and pension plans of 100,000 retired...
MACED’s statement about the U.S. Department of the Interior’s new stream protection rule

MACED’s statement about the U.S. Department of the Interior’s new stream protection rule...

The U.S. Department of the Interior released new rules for the protection of streams from the impact of surface mining – rules which haven’t been updated in three decades. We’re happy about this update because we know that in order to have economically thriving and sustainable communities in the mountains, having clean water will be essential. You can read a full statement from the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development about the new rules,...
People who are poor should be central in SOAR leadership

People who are poor should be central in SOAR leadership

Former War on Poverty anti-poverty worker, Robert W. Shaffer has some advice about how to improve upon past efforts at economic transition in eastern Kentucky: Let people who are poor have seats at all tables where decisions about the future of the region are being made. From Shaffer: Poverty statistics will once again be used to bring millions of dollars to Eastern Kentucky to be spent by those who are not poor. What is never considered is the enormous price poor families pay to produce these statistics. They are, after all, the expert witnesses. Who has a greater stake in SOAR’s success? It makes common sense that poor people should have seats at the table where decisions are made about how those funds will be spent. But it is an open secret that many in leadership do not want poor people to acquire the confidence to participate at the highest levels in programs designed to enable them to rise out of poverty. The Shaping Our Appalachian Region Initiative has been key to shifting the overarching conversation about transition in the region, and has helped bring in millions in federal investments. However – as we’ve written about previously on this blog – the entire initiative has a long way to go before all eastern Kentuckians are equally represented among it’s leadership and participants. As Shaffer points out: “SOAR’s present leadership consists of the one percent of the population accustomed to controlling all federal and state funds available to the region. The executive board...

Economic transition advice from a seasoned EKY grassroots leader...

Gwenda Johnson has some advice for modern-day eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia about how we move our economy forward, and she talked about it recently with Making Connections News. From MCN: Johnson grew up on a family farm in Elliot County, and has worked as a county extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Recently, she was asked by her county judge to focus her efforts on community economic development. She spoke with MCN and WMMT-FM about her hopes for the region in a piece created for the “Appalachia Speaks” series – short videos featuring voices and visions of grassroots leaders. “It’s time for us to gather our people,” Johnson says. “Maybe it’s time for a revolution. What can we do? What are the strengths of this mountains and the hills? What so we have that we can use?” Watch Johnson’s full interview...

AML white paper gives recommendations to make program work better for Central Appalachia’s economic transition...

UPDATE, 7-9-15: The full text of the AML white paper can now be downloaded at the link to the press release. Scroll to the bottom for the link to download.  The AML Policies Priority Group – a multi-stakeholder group examining the abandoned mine lands fund – released a white paper today that assesses the opportunity for the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program in Central Appalachia. From a press release about the white paper’s release: The paper provides recommendations for specific policy changes that would provide distribution of special funds to states based on criteria such as number of remaining abandoned mine lands sites, unemployment rates, and opportunity for economic development, rather than rates of coal production as the current law mandates. The central aim of the research paper, which includes input from a broad range of stakeholders across the region, is to analyze the AML program and identify potential improvements. Some of the paper’s key findings include: The AML program supported 1,317 jobs in Central Appalachian states, and delivered a value-added impact of $102 million in these states. It will take at least $9.6 billion to remediate the remaining 6.2 million acres of lands and waters ravaged by abandoned mine problems. AML funding is not distributed according to need. Congress should enact legislation that replaces all AML sub-funds with a single distribution mechanism based on a state’s percentage of the updated federal AML inventory. AML funds are a big part of President Obama’s POWER+ Plan proposal, and this paper aims...
More news of local food success in Kentucky

More news of local food success in Kentucky

Kentucky leads the way in federally funded local foods projects at 1,659. That latest number comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with this one: local food sales topped $11.7 billion last year – that’s billion, with a “b.” That is a huge figure, and one that further proves local foods is one sector upon which communities can capitalize, something we’ve been saying for years. Not only are local farmers, et al, making a big economic impact through the local foods sector, but farmers’ markets and direct-to-consumer outlets are quickly becoming cornerstones of small communities and helping to develop a broader and deeper sense of community among locals. In Kentucky, 73 farmers markets and DTC outlets now accept SNAP, and last year, almost $80,000 in SNAP benefits were redeemed at Kentucky markets. That is huge news for eastern Kentucky where many locals rely on SNAP each month. Such locals would have been excluded from using SNAP at many farmers markets just 5 years ago. The Letcher County Farmers’ Market (LCFM) in Whitesburg, Ky., is a shining example of an innovative approach to eastern Kentucky farmers’ markets. Not only does the market accept SNAP and run a successful summer feeding program for local children, but the market now works in partnership with the Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation to provide “prescriptions” for locally-grown, organic food. Patients who qualify for the Farmacy program receive $1 per day per family member, which are later totaled and written on a voucher that can be...
Study: Most Americans could be fed by locally grown food; Big news for Central Appalachian local foods movement

Study: Most Americans could be fed by locally grown food; Big news for Central Appalachian local foods movement...

A new University of California study has revealed that most areas of the U.S. could feed between 80 to 100 percent of the local population with food grown or raised within 50 miles. This is huge news for the local foods movement, which Central Appalachia has embraced practically whole hog as a sector built on local assets that could become central to economic diversification in the region. (Read more, from The Rural Blog) The study focused on large metropolitan areas and smaller cities, but when looking at a map created by the lead researcher, Elliott Campbell, it’s clear that the highest percentage of people who could eat locally are in the country’s rural areas, with Central Appalachia squarely in the mix (Findings are based on data from the year 2000, the most recent available; but Campbell says data from 2000-2015 will likely yield similar results). That is good news for the region’s burgeoning local foods movement. The sector is set to become a pillar of eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia’s economic transition and future, and rightfully so. As former coal miner-turned-farmer Todd Howard once said, “The only thing we’ve done longer in eastern Kentucky than mine coal is grow food.” The region is building on its assets to diversify its economy in fruitful and sustainable ways. Most people in the region have already put a lot of faith into the local foods sector. If this new research is any indication, that sector’s viability to become a major support for the future economy is...

E.Ky. leaders “thinking outside the box” about economic development...

Last week, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Bell County is turned a major goose egg of a county-owned property into what county officials hope will become a golden faberge version of its former self: A large industrial park in Bell County that never attracted a factory will be repurposed as the site of a wildlife center that could be a key tourism attraction, according to local officials. The Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Development Authority has agreed to sell 750 acres to the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation for $750,000, said Mike Bowling, a Middlesboro attorney who chairs the authority. … The foundation plans to develop a campus that would include a conservation center with natural history and taxidermy displays, a theater, a local artisan market, research and conference space, and an astronomy pavilion, according to its website. The county intended the site to become a massive industrial park, complete with recruited factory businesses and the promise of hundreds of jobs. The land was former surface-mined land, and a multi-million dollar bridge was build from U.S. 119 to the site. Since there was nothing on the other side of the bridge for so long, locals dubbed it “the bridge to nowhere.” But now, county officials hope the wildlife center will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors in just a few years, which would bring thousands of dollars into the region. The Herald-Leader is quick to point out that “the decision to use the site for tourism instead of industry reflects the difficulty some Eastern Kentucky counties have...
KSEC hosts Lexington, Ky., senator on energy efficiency, renewable energy tour

KSEC hosts Lexington, Ky., senator on energy efficiency, renewable energy tour...

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog post from a guest blogger. The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Renew Appalachia or of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED). It is an exciting time to be working for change in Kentucky. With the flurry of activity from the Just Transition Movement, and the growing momentum for renewables and energy efficiency that we’ve seen in our communities AND in the halls of Frankfort, it really feels like a pivotal moment in our history. The members of the KY Student Environmental Coalition are stoked to play our role in these efforts. Last week, we hosted Lexington Senator Reggie Thomas on a tour of how energy efficiency and renewable energy are already making a huge difference in the lives of Kentuckians, and spurring economic growth in the Western region of our state. We also wanted to discuss strategy for getting the Clean Energy Opportunity Act into the state Senate next year. Folks who are lucky enough to live in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s utility region have access to many of the incentives that the CEOA would provide for the rest of us, so it seemed like a good place to take Senator Thomas to see what Kentucky’s energy future could look like. What we found was both exciting and inspiring, but perhaps the most exciting part of the day was realizing that there are at least some legislators in this state that...

SOAR still important, but second summit falls short of expectations...

One week ago today, the Shaping Our Appalachian Region Initiative hosted it’s second summit in Pikeville, Ky. If readers will recall, SOAR started with much fanfare, excitement and anticipation two years ago. Since it’s inception, SOAR has been funneling millions of dollars into eastern Kentucky through various state channels, public-private partnerships and federal programs. There have been hours and pages of media coverage dedicated to the initiative and what types of economic development and prosperity it might bring into the region. We cannot deny the positive impact of SOAR. They are many and varied and we respect and welcome that. However, two years later (2014 was dedicated to various working group committees gathering ideas and information through a series public listening sessions), and many of the public’s fears about SOAR becoming a space for political posturing, exclusion of viewpoints that stand outside the status quo, and tired ideas about what will bring a sustainable economy into the region seem to have materialized. The breakout sessions at the 2015 SOAR Strategy Summit were led by panels that were filled with people doing great work and operating great programs in eastern Kentucky. They spent their time telling audience members about their programs and how they were helping the region succeed. That’s all fine and good, but what wasn’t clear in many sessions was what the panelists or their programs had to do with the recommendations or ideas coming out of the 2014 listening sessions, or the 2013 SOAR Summit. It seemed to many that these panelists were carefully chosen...

Appalachian Regional Commission listening sessions happening this summer...

The Appalachian Regional Commission has stated its next five-year strategic plan will increase emphasis on economic and community development efforts. In order to fully implement the best course of action to move Appalachia forward, the ARC will be seeking input from a variety of stakeholders, including community members, local government and nonprofit employees, and students. ARC will host five listening sessions throughout the region in order to glean some of that input. The sessions will take place in Forest City, N.C., Starkville, Miss., Morehead, Ky., Altoona, Penn., and Morgantown, W.V. Sessions are free and open to the public, and a “broad range” of citizens are encouraged to attend. Each session will be from 10am to 3pm, with lunch provided. Those wishing to attend do have to register, though. This is only the first opportunity during which stakeholders in Appalachian Transition can share and discuss their ideas about opportunities in the region (there will also be focus groups with development leaders and a public online survey), but it is a very important step in the right direction for the 50-year-old federal agency. If this next strategic plan for the ARC is to guide the agency’s investments in development in the region, then of course they should be seeking input about how to design such a plan. The ARC listening sessions are yet another opportunity for everyday Appalachians to share their thoughts, vision and hopes for the future of the region – something they have so often not been invited to do. We hope they won’t let...

POWER Initiative to focus existing federal money on transition efforts in Central Appalachia...

The Obama Administration announced today the implementation of a key part of its POWER Plus Plan to assist transition efforts in Central Appalachia: the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative. The POWER Initiative will establish partnerships between multiple federal agencies to award grants to new and existing economic transition projects in the region. Funding will come from already appropriated fiscal year 2015 funds from several federal programs. In other words: This is not new funding, but is existing funding that has already been approved for dispersal. Grants will be awarded through two parallel grant tracks: planning and implementation: Planning Grants: Funding will come from, and grants will be awarded by, the Departments of Commerce (DOC) and Labor (DOL)  to communities impacted by job losses in coal mining and coal-fired power plants, but that do not have existing economic development strategic plans in place. Funding would be used to help develop such strategic plans, organize community stakeholders, and analyze and inventory community assets. Funds could also be used for job re-training for unemployed workers. Implementation Grants: Funding will come from, and be awarded by, DOC, DOL, the Small Business Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission. These grants will be given to coalfield communities that have already started, or have in place, economic development strategic plans. They will help develop industry clusters, accelerate job creation through local assets, train and place workers in new jobs, and create partnerships that drive economic development. Specific funding amounts for planning grants is not noted, but for implementation grants, up to...
Young eastern Kentucky entrepreneur creates his own opportunity

Young eastern Kentucky entrepreneur creates his own opportunity...

By: Ivy Brashear Many people like to have a purpose behind the work they do – a reason why they do that work and what keeps them doing it. For Garrett, Ky., native Shane Hamilton, having purpose behind the work he does is more like a life mantra. “I have goals. I have a ‘why:’ ‘Why do I want to do this?’” Hamilton said “Other people’s ‘why’ is they want to make money. You have to have something that overpowers money. What do you want to do with it? I like to help people who need it. I like to see other people make money. It’s the ‘why’ factor.” At 22, Hamilton, the owner and CEO of Service Maids LLC, is not the type to wait for opportunity to come his way; he creates it for himself. Hamilton has considered himself an entrepreneur since high school, when he sold trendy bracelets at local flea markets and festivals. When the bracelet fad started to decline, he decided to move on to a more sustainable business: professional house cleaning. He had researched what businesses required small amounts of investment to start, and cleaning companies were at the top of the list. And since there were no professional house-cleaning companies in eastern Kentucky, there would be little competition for his business. Hamilton started Service Maids in 2011 at age 19. He didn’t always want to start his own company from scratch. In fact, he tried to convince large, multi-million-dollar house cleaning companies...
First official Trail Town in eastern Kentucky wants to develop economy around designation

First official Trail Town in eastern Kentucky wants to develop economy around designation...

By: Ivy Brashear Livingston, Ky., is a small place. At last count in 2010, the total population was 226 people. Main Street isn’t long enough for a single stoplight. Even when the L&N Railroad first came through town in 1870, Livingston stayed small. But the town’s size hasn’t kept its residents from dreaming big. About five years ago, Livingston officials and a core group of residents took action. They wanted to revitalize their small downtown to drum up local pride and make the community more attractive to tourists. They created the Livingston Development Board and developed a master plan for the town. They painted storefronts, improved landscaping, and replaced old, un-lit welcome signs with new solar-powered ones. “We have a lot of goals in mind,” said Livingston Development Board Project Coordinator Lynn Tatum. “This isn’t going to happen overnight. The next five years are going to be real critical. We want to really make some differences.” In 2013, Livingston was designated as the first Kentucky Trail Town in eastern Kentucky, a title that brings with it marketing support from the Department of Travel and Tourism. That’s support that could otherwise cost communities nearly $50,000, a sum most small rural communities don’t have on the books. It’s also support that lends credibility and notoriety to communities trying to find ways to become known as tourism destinations – an invaluable level of support when a community is trying to use that tourism to inject life back into its languid economy. The...