Must-read essay on entrepreneurs in Appalachia’s post-coal economy

Yesterday, the Daily Yonder featured a thoughtful, thought-provoking essay about the uncertaintly of the economic future of the coalfields. Written by a young entrepreneur from Whitesburg, KY, the piece juxtaposes the author’s father’s view that it’s coal or nothing with the rebirth of Whitesburg’s Main Street in the face of coal’s decline. This rebirth has been fueled by brave entrepreneurs:

Since opening The Parlor Room, John has been joined on a reviving Main Street by new start-ups: a restaurant, a consignment shop, an art gallery and, much anticipated, a new bakery.  In Whitesburg and the surrounding towns in Letcher County, we see the trend in entrepreneurship very clearly. Joining the well established small business community are several men and women who have begun photography businesses. There are new embroidery shops, up-scale consignments, an outdoor sports and apparel shop, and a noticeable abundance of peddler’s malls.

We certainly believe entrepreneurship is a cornerstone to Appalachia’s economic future. It is true that cal’s decline will create hard times for Appalachian communities who haven’t been preparing for it, and the author shares her worries for her family’s – and her community’s – future. But she also shares her optimism that Appalachian ingenuity and drive will get them through.

In some small compartment the larger local consciousness, there’s the “make do” attitude that has sustained the Appalachian people for hundreds of years. Whether a person stands on the side of the coal industry or feels the industry is the detriment to our well-being isn’t going to matter when we are faced with having to transition our economy from coal. After the likely mass exodus, like those we have seen in our past when coal production declined, those left behind — and those who choose to stay — will have to find a way to work together to provide for their families or live in dire poverty.
I dare say that a way will be found.
Visit the Daily Yonder for the full essay. It’s well worth the read.