Since 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission has been dedicated to improving the economic health of the Appalachians. Over $ 4.5 billion has been invested, from helping small businesses to broadband deployment to workforce development. Key to ARC’s success is the agency’s guiding principle of collaboration and cooperation – among the region’s 13 Appalachian states, among federal-state-local governments, and among political parties. Each RCAF Governor sits on the Commission and I am honored to serve as the RCAF State Co-Chair for 2021.
In a spirit of collaboration and bipartisanship, I asked the 13 RCAF Governors and RCAF Federal Co-Chair Gayle Conelly Manchin to participate in an editorial exchange of opinion. From now through the first week of October, 34 newspapers from New York to Mississippi will run a weekly editorial different from the Governor’s Opinion. I hope this public exchange of ideas will help facilitate intergovernmental collaboration, raise the profile of the ARC, and demonstrate that communities – despite geographic and political differences – face similar challenges and are implementing initiatives. innovative solutions.
ARC’s collaborative approach is successful because it reflects the positive attitude and partnership building of the people who live in the Appalachians. When parts of the Appalachian Mountains were left in the dark in the 1930s, communities across the ARC footprint formed co-ops and electrified their homes. While some traditional industries have declined in the region, the Appalachians face a decisive crossroads in determining their future. In Virginia, we have chosen to build on the unique strengths of the region: a strong education system, a talented workforce, unique advantages in agriculture, energy and manufacturing, a low cost of living, a unique culture, unparalleled nature, beauty and outdoor recreation, as well as vibrant city centers and rural communities filled with new economic opportunities.
Every step of the way, the CRA has been a vital partner in our efforts. The rebirth of St. Paul, a small town nestled in the mountains and straddled by the Clinch River, is a prime example of the impact the CRA can have in partnership with a dynamic and visionary set of local and regional leaders from the sectors. private and public.
St. Paul took advantage of the city’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 more, were created with local and state investment and with seed funding from the ARC. Eight years after its opening, Spearhead offers 600 miles of trails and sells approximately 10,000 permits per year.
With the increase in tourism, St. Paul has invested in world-class housing in the city. The Western Front Hotel is a 30-room boutique hotel launched in 2016 with a $ 500,000 grant from the CRA. The project rehabilitated 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 downtown brewery and a private rafting company on the Clinch River.
Virginia will host the ARC Annual Conference at the Western Front Hotel in St. Paul on October 4-5. We can’t wait to showcase the amenities of the area. The conference will provide an opportunity for the governors of the CRA, their staff and the staff of the CRA to come together and develop a strategic plan that will guide the agency for the coming decade.
This is just one specific example of the strength of the RCAF and the region. Virginia, ARC, and regional collaboration have made transformational investments in broadband, infrastructure, addiction response efforts, child care, workforce, cultural heritage – like the world famous Crooked Road, Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail – and more.
I am optimistic about the future of the Appalachians, and you should be too. I see a region of limitless potential and unparalleled natural beauty, teeming with honest and resilient people who never hesitate to reach out. Solving the challenges the Appalachians face will require more than funding. It will take hard work, something that the people of our region do not miss. It will take the same ingenuity that fueled the rebound of Saint-Paul and so many other communities like her. More importantly, it will take collaboration and cooperation. I am delighted to hear from the Governors of the Appalachians over the next three months and to continue our work together to improve the Appalachians.
RALPH NORDHAM is governor of Virginia. This op-ed is one in a series of state governors that make up the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) footprint, as well as the federal co-chair of the ARC. The Appalachian Regional Commission (www.arc.gov) is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties in the Appalachian region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner and invest to build community capacity and enhance economic growth in the Appalachians to help the region achieve socio-economic parity with the nation.