Optimistic about future
Since 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has been dedicated to improving the economic health of Appalachia. Over $4.5 billion has been invested, from small business assistance to broadband deployment to workforce development. The key to ARC’s success comes from the agency’s guiding principle of collaboration and cooperation – between the 13 Appalachian states of the region, between the federal-state-local governments, and across political party lines. Each ARC governor sits on the Commission, and I am honored to serve as ARC state Co-Chair for 2021.
In the spirit of collaboration and bipartisanship, I have asked all 13 ARC governors and ARC federal Co-Chair Gayle Conelly Manchin to participate in an opinion editorial exchange. Starting now through the first week of October, 34 newspapers from New York to Mississippi will run a different governor’s opinion editorial weekly. I hope that this public exchange of ideas will help facilitate cross-government collaboration, raise the profile of the ARC, and demonstrate that communities–despite geographic and political differences–are facing similar challenges and implementing innovative solutions.
ARC’s collaborative approach is successful because it mirrors the can-do attitude and partnership-building of the people who call Appalachia home. When portions of Appalachia were being left in the dark in the 1930s, communities throughout the ARC footprint formed cooperatives and electrified their homes. As some traditional industries have declined in the region, Appalachia faces a decisive crossroad to determine its future. In Virginia, we have taken the approach of building on the region’s unique assets – a strong education system, a talented workforce, unique advantages in agriculture, energy and manufacturing, low cost of living, one-of-a-kind culture, unmatched natural beauty and outdoor recreation, and vibrant downtowns and rural communities filled with new economic opportunities.
Every step of the way, ARC has been a critical partner in our effort. The renaissance of St. Paul, a small town nestled in the mountains and straddled by the Clinch River, is a great example of the impact ARC can have in partnership with a vibrant and visionary set of local and regional private and public sector leaders.
St. Paul leveraged the town’s proximity to beautiful mountains and the Clinch River, one of the most biodiverse rivers in the Northern Hemisphere, to create new opportunities for outdoor recreation. The Spearhead Trails, a network of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, all-terrain vehicles, and much more, were created with local and state investment, and seed funding from ARC. Eight years since opening, Spearhead offers 600 miles of trails and sells approximately 10,000 permits annually.
With the increase of tourism, St. Paul invested in world class accommodations in town. The Western Front Hotel is a boutique, 30 room hotel that launched in 2016 with the help of a $500,000 grant from ARC. The project rehabbed a vacant, century-old building in the heart of downtown and has since created a quality hotel that rivals boutique hotels anywhere in the world. Both Spearhead Trails and the Western Front have been a catalyst for private investment, such as a new brewery downtown and a private rafting business on the Clinch River.
Virginia will be hosting the annual ARC conference at the Western Front Hotel in Saint Paul on October 4-5 . We look forward to showing off the region’s amenities. The conference will be a chance for ARC Governors, their staff, and ARC staff to convene and develop a strategic plan that will guide the agency for the coming decade.
This is just one specific example of the strength of ARC and the region. Virginia, ARC, and regional collaboration have brought transformational investments in broadband, infrastructure, substance abuse response efforts, child care, workforce, cultural heritage–such as the world-renowned Crooked Road – Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail–and so much more.
I am optimistic about the future of Appalachia, and you should be too. I see a region with unlimited potential and unmatched natural beauty, brimming with decent, resilient people who never shy away from extending a helping hand. Solving the challenges Appalachia faces will take more than funding. It will take hard work, something the folks of our region are not lacking in. It will take the same ingenuity that has fueled the rebound of St. Paul and so many other communities like it. Most importantly, it will take collaboration and cooperation. I am excited to hear from Appalachia’s governors throughout the next three months and continue our work together to bettering Appalachia.