Student Series: Land, People and Development in Appalachia

University of Kentucky Instructor Amanda Fickey assigned students taking her undergraduate Land, People, and Development course last fall to analyze an organization engaged in an economic practice other than resource extraction.

Over the next few weeks we will be posting responses researched and and written by students trying to learn and understand about the interesection of communities and economic development in our region.  We hope hearing from these students spurs a discussion about development and transition in the region–your thoughts are always welcome.

Tourism in Eastern Kentucky: How One Organization is Revitalizing the Image of a Region

by Zachary Chesser

For decades, the region of Appalachia has been looked upon as a struggling economy with “backwards” people.  One organization has taken the initiative to help such struggling areas to reimage themselves, and works not only to establish working relationships between the coal companies and tourism initiatives, but to also bring new industry to the region.  Over the past 23 years, The Southern & Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association (SEKTDA) has established itself in 47 counties across the state. SEKTDA’s main focus is to help burdened economies bring in travel and tourism, with the hope of increasing opportunities for local individuals.

SEKTDA works to improve tourism by providing seed money to regional communities to revitalize their town.  Their seed money often goes toward improving downtown areas, helping rebuild and remodel buildings, providing free customer service to visitors, and providing classes to local individuals teaching them how to interact with tourists. During an interview with director Jeff Crowe, Crowe stated that over the past ten years SEKTDA have seen expenditures rise from 134 million dollars to nearly 1.4 billion dollars, due to increased amounts of grants funded to the area.  The counties in which SEKTDA are involved in have seen an average of 27.54% increase in funds brought to the region between 2004-2009, thanks to tourism in the area.  There has been a spike in the development of hotels and neighborhoods, and a dramatic increase in small business entrepreneurs.

SEKTDA is not only concerned with improving the region economically, but they hope to improve the lives of those who call this region home.  Congressman Hal Rogers, an active affiliate of SEKTDA, developed an initiative known as “Companies Coming” nearly ten years ago. SEKTDA works to further promote the coming of industry (which SEKTDA argues will improve lives) through tourism. SEKTDA creates an environment conducive to new industries by creating a national marketing program (focusing on the themes of history, culture, and outdoor recreation), developing and marketing niche products, using “corridor teams” to work on product development and facility improvements, increasing regional tourism staffing, seeking national designations, supporting projects of regional importance, sponsoring financial, technical and continuing education assistance, and developing a regional Hospitality Training program.

SEKTDA has also moved toward improvements in the overall education and health levels in this region developing 93 educational workshops, and is trying to work with local individuals about growing local crops to “improve overall health and education awareness.” 

Not only has SEKTDA been named Regional Organization of the Year 5 times in the past twenty-three years, but they have recently started working with coal companies as well.  While not being in support of strip mining in the region, SEKTDA has decided to work with the coal industry to raise awareness of the dangers of mountain top removal and to remove the negative connotations associated with strip mining in the region. In the words of Mr. Crowe, “We hope to help bridge the gap between economies, but also gain knowledge of our history. We are Appalachia.” For more information regarding SEKTDA you can visit their website.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.