A group of nearly twenty-five dedicated folks gathered in Prestonsburg, KY on Monday to dig deeper into the ideas of economic transition. With coal production in a prolonged decline and headed for a steep drop, the need for new opportunities for Appalachia is critical. The Alliance for Appalachia, which hosted the meeting, brought the group together to share knowledge and explore the potential for collaboration.
Breakout groups focused on entrepreneurship, forests and farms, youth and leadership development, renewable energy and energy efficiency, media, health, and a number of other topics. One common theme was the need for a new land ownership study; Carol Judy, a root digger and activist from east Tennessee said that it's hard to build a sustainable economy when you only have access to 20 percent of the resources. At the same time, Judy described the enormous potential in non-timber forest products like ginseng, ramps and goldenseal: an over $40-billion dollar a year industry where 400 of the roots grow in Appalachia.
Other discussions focused around the need to gather the research that shows the value of local economic development over attracting outside businesses; on how to keep young people engaged in the region; on how to tell our stories and spread the message of transition. It was a long, but productive day, and when it was over, participants described feeling "energized," "connected," and "inspired." As West Virginia activist Dianne Bady put it, "It feels great to be FOR something instead of just against it."