Transition in Action: What is ‘Appalachian Transition?’

Open Letter Ad photo color

MACED placed this ad in seven eastern Kentucky newspapers in 2014.

The Mountain Association for Community and Economic Development – and many others – believe eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia are experiencing an important moment. While the region has always faced change, current and urgent trends require big solutions, and are creating a different scale of opportunities. This change doesn’t just matter here; it could matter to the nation. If Appalachia can build a new, more sustainable economy, it will provide lessons for other regions.

Our understanding of the moment includes a key set of historical and recent factors: too little overall economic diversity has meant too few jobs; the long-term decline and recent acute job loss in the coal industry have deepened economic distress; the growing acknowledgement that the economic prospects for the coal industry in Central Appalachia look dim; national recognition of coal’s human health, environmental, and climate costs is increasing, even while the politics of the region remain entrenched.

However, there is now a growing effort to create a new economy that works better for the people and the place. Young people, new entrepreneurs and community organizations across Central Appalachia are creating economic opportunities and looking for effective solutions to the challenges we face.

No one thinks it is going to be easy, but the Just Transition movement believes real progress is possible. The movement is shaped by people coming together in new ways and combining a new vision of the future with different economic and leadership opportunities that create concrete results that make a difference.

MACED believes that incremental progress is critical, but to ensure we are moving in the right direction, we aim that progress at a broad vision of a brighter future. To us, that vision includes:

  • Good, diverse and stable jobs and income opportunities.
  • Meaningful public participation and broad access to benefits.
  • Protected and preserved natural resources and working landscapes—water, forests, land and air quality.
  • An appreciation of our diverse assets.
  • Our past, people and places are respected.

We know Just Transition will take a unique combination of a whole range of strategies that don’t often come together to achieve that vision. To us, those strategies include:

  • New economic models that have the potential for large impact, and that produce broadly held wealth and meaningful results.
  • Effective public policy and government that meets basic needs, ensures solid public infrastructure and health, and invests in a strong economy.
  • An honest and ongoing public conversation about the future of the region.
  • Strong community leaders and civic engagement efforts working toward a shared vision.
  • Electoral training, support and financing efforts to broaden the array of candidates for local, state and national office who believe in and work toward a brighter Appalachian future.

MACED, for its part, contributes to the broader Just Appalachian Transition in three main ways:

  1. Creating concrete economic models and results aimed at broad impact. This includes our enterprise development, technical assistance, residential and commercial energy efficiency work.
  2. Changing the conversation about the future of the region through strategic communications. An example is the ad included with this post that MACED placed in seven eastern Kentucky newspapers two years ago.
  3. Engaging in research and advocacy for policy change. We achieve this through the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, but also through our more Appalachia-specific research.

We also work together with several partner organizations, including Appalshop, the Center for Rural Strategies and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and through networks like the New Economy Coalition, the Central Appalachian Network, and the Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance, to affect change. We believe that it takes a village to raise a new economy for the region, and that we have a lot to learn from others in this movement. We know that we work smarter and more effectively when we work with others to make economic transition happen.

Everything MACED does contributes to advancing a Just Appalachian Transition because we believe that deep change will require intentional, strategic efforts. No one organization can accomplish a just economic transition in Central Appalachia on its own. We must all work together to build a better future in the region. We must be ambitious in naming where real long-term progress needs to happen, even while we push for tangible results in the short term. We must aim high, and go boldly into the future, building all along the way a new economy that doesn’t leave anyone behind, and that relies on local assets, to become sustainable.

The road to that new economy is long, and the way is tough, but we know that by working together with allies and across lines that we don’t normally cross, by helping our neighbors and working hard, by investing in what we love most about our place, we can reach that bright future.