ARC may be O-U-T

107 projects since 1968 worth more than $74M in the county

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Miranda Collins, director of the Marietta College Physician Assistant program and Brad Pierce, assistant professor, set up a simulated emergency for students to respond to in a controlled exercise. The program was seeded through funds from the ARC in 2000.

Millions of dollars in federal and state money have poured into the southeastern region of the state including Washington County since the inception of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“It began after the Kennedy campaign in 1960 took then-candidate (John F.) Kennedy through Appalachia and he saw the abject poverty and isolation,” said Bret Allphin, development director of Buckeye Hills Regional Council, the local administrator of federal development dollars. “Shortly after entering office he commissioned a study of the 13 states within Appalachia. Unfortunately Kennedy did not live to see that study completed but out of the study the Appalachian Regional Commission was formed in 1965.”

President Donald Trump proposed the elimination of the Appalachian Regional Commission not only in the blueprint budget released in March but also in his official budget proposal released at the end of May.

But the 13-state commission has contributed millions of infrastructure spending–especially in southeastern Ohio.

Washington County has seen 107 projects since 1968 with an investment of more than $74 million into areas including local water, sewer, transportation, education, access to health care, job training, communication and arts.

Monroe County has seen 30 projects since 1974, with more than $24 million invested into similar needs while Morgan County has had 47 projects costing more than $27 million. Noble County had 19 projects with an investment of more than $23 million.

Funds from the ARC provided 911 service to Morgan County residents in 2002, to Noble County residents in 2003 and Monroe County residents in 2008.

Rural health clinics, dental assistance programs, county health clinics, speech and hearing centers were all seeded through ARC investments in those three counties beginning in 1974.

For basic water lines and sewage treatment, Morgan County residents have benefited from 14 ARC-backed projects, while Noble County and Monroe County have each had nine similar projects per county.

The average ARC investment in Washington County per year is $355,487.76. In Monroe County the average is $220,532.30, in Morgan County it’s $282,179.77 and in Noble County it’s $151,119.

Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, a Marietta resident, said there’s no way he would vote for the elimination of the ARC.

“I sit on the budget committee and I’ve got an agreement with my colleagues that we’re keeping the Appalachian Regional Commission. There’s a lot to like about this proposed budget and the cuts to unnecessary spending, but cutting the ARC would not have my support,” he said. “The ARC over its lifespan has improved the lives of thousands of Ohioans and (the commission) consistently proves it’s accomplishing its goals.”

Johnson said he recently met with the president and explained his concerns about what the loss of the commission would do to the nation.

“I’m confident I’ve made my case to my colleagues and I’m making the case to the president too,” he said. “I understand the politics of it but Appalachia is often at the back of Washington’s minds. I’m fighting for my district and for the ARC.”

For Caldwell native Brad Pierce, the commission’s multiple investments in Marietta College enabled his career as a physician’s assistant and has allowed him to work both at the Strecker Cancer Center in Belpre and as an assistant professor for the Marietta College program from which he graduated.

“I got to study local and stay local,” said Pierce who now lives in Barlow and teaches in the program.

The program was seeded through funds from the ARC in 2000 and has since received $500,000 in total from the commission to develop and administer the expansion of health care access in Appalachia.

Miranda Collins, director of the program, said the grants have facilitated so much more than just a lecture hall and textbooks for her students.

“In 2013 the ARC provided half the funds for four human patient simulators. They’re mannequins with a heart rate and a pulse,” she explained. “You can program a number of functions so you can run a clinical simulation in a controlled environment, and if the students get it wrong, you can make the ‘patient’ die.”

The experience is intense, according to Pierce.

“But they learn so much more by doing this, and we can simulate so much in that controlled space so they can go over these simulations again and again and can get comfortable,” he said. “They’re given a symptom or complaint and the age of the patient, just like you would get walking into an urgent care. Only we know what the diagnosis is going to be and they have to work through how to treat them.”

In two years, graduates of the program are working full-time, many still in Appalachia.

“We are the extra hands and feet for physicians with a versatility in training to change specialties as we are needed,” said Collins. “Our goal is to have 50 percent of our graduates providing care in Ohio and Appalachia. Currently 69 percent of our graduates work in the Appalachian Region.”

The program has graduated 351 students since its inception, with an average of 36 students per class.

The Washington County Career Center has also seen 18 projects and programs funded in part by the ARC since 1970 and Washington State Community College has seen nine since 1995.

Jeff Starkey, Washington State Community College assistant professor of automotive diesel technology, said the most recent grant from the ARC to his program will keep his students at the forefront of their careers.

“We train on the latest technology, which helps them develop self-directed skills,” said Starkey.

The program enrolled 45 students last year and the grant of $87,900 will enable continued training for another 70 students.

“Caring for these alternative fuel vehicles is the next big thing in our industry and so getting to work on those in the shops, having a natural gas trainer–a diesel engine which runs on compressed natural gas– is huge,” he said.

The grant is also facilitating further cross-institutional collaboration between the local program and others throughout the U.S.

“The industry isn’t just about turning a wrench anymore and so these students are embracing the soft skills and reaching out to other students in similar programs with their studies and reaching out to leaders in our field,” he said.

The goals of the ARC are simple: Invest in entrepreneurial and business development strategies that strengthen Appalachia’s economy; increase the education, knowledge, skills and health of residents to work and succeed in Appalachia; invest in critical infrastructure–especially broadband, transportation and water/wastewater systems; strengthen Appalachia’s community and economic development potential by leveraging the region’s natural and cultural heritage assets; build the capacity and skills of current and next-generation leaders and organizations to innovate, collaborate and advance community and economic development.

“The idea is to promote resources to reach economic parity with the rest of the country,” explained Allphin. “So those basics, 911, education and training, access to more than just one physician in your county, transportation…when Kennedy toured Appalachia he did so by train because the communities were so remote that train was the only ‘quick’ mode of transportation for the region and that physical isolation only intensified the poverty.”

The task is monumental, an endeavor for more than just a 50-year span. In Washington County alone, 21 water or sewer related projects were funded in part by the commission.

“If you turn on your water or flush your toilet in any part of this region, most likely the ARC was involved,” said Allphin. “Maybe we’ll never reach economic parity with the rest of the nation, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Each of these investments have brought the basics like water, sewer, health care and education to a land impoverished.”

At a glance

Appalachian Regional Commission investments:

¯ The average ARC investment in Washington County per year: $355,487.76.

¯ The average ARC investment in Monroe County per year: $220,532.30.

¯ The average ARC investment in Morgan County per year: $282,179.77.

¯ The average ARC investment in Noble County per year: $151,119.

Source: Bret Allphin, development director for Buckeye Hills.