New year, new transition opportunities

Happy New Year! Renew Appalachia has been on hiatus over the Holidays, and at least a couple of big developments happened over the break that have big potential for the Appalachian Transition movement in 2015.

Broadband Internet will be expanded to far-flung corners of Kentucky in the coming years, beginning with the creation of a plan for expansion this year. The expansion will happen through a public-private partnership between the state government and Macquarie Capital. The first leg will be installed in eastern Kentucky. Broadband expansion in the region was a recommendation that came out of the initial Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) summit in 2013. It’s not exactly clear just how far the broadband lines will extend into eastern Kentucky – a press release from Hal Rogers’ office only says that “work along I-75 from northern Kentucky to Williamsburg will for the ‘spine’ of the network, with work in the priority region os southeastern Kentucky occurring simultaneously.” Despite that, it’s hard to not be optimistic about the possibilities that expanded broadband could provide to the region.

The Appalachian Regional Commission started developing a new strategic plan that will begin in 2016. ARC wants its new plan to focus on the future of the region, including how best to advance sustainable economic development. According to the ARC: “The Appalachian Region has historically been dominated by a few industries, such as mining, textiles, tobacco and timber. This is particularly true in its most economically distressed counties. Dependence on these industries as economic drivers and employers has left many communities vulnerable to economic fluctuations.” To that end, the agency said in a request for proposals that it will look to fund projects like renewable energy, advanced manufacturing and tourism. ARC provides millions of dollars of funding for hundreds of projects in the 13-state Appalachian region each year. Knowing it wants to pour that funding into forward-thinking projects designed to advance the region’s economy into the future is good news for the just economic transition in Central Appalachia.

With the next SOAR Summit scheduled for February 16 of this year, more announcements like these are sure to come. And with each declaration of support for the just economic transition in the region from high-ranking officials and federal agencies, we get closer to our goal of a brighter Appalachian future. Here’s to the new year full of new possibilities!