Study Examines Opportunities & Challenges for Economic Growth in Appalachia

Last month, the Appalachian Regional Commission released a study by researchers at the University of Tennessee called "Strategies for Economic Improvement in Appalachia's Distressed Rural Counties." While quite long (over 200 pages!), the report provides some very interesting case studies of eight Appalachian counties and how they're surviving – or not – economically. In Central Appalachia, the report looks at Morgan County, OH; Pendelton and Calhoun Counties, WV; Pike and Bell Counties, KY; Avery County, NC; and Johnson County, TN. (Download the report here; be warned, it can take awhile!)

The Knoxville News Sentinel recently ran an editorial about the report, noting that:

The study's authors found some counties participated in and benefitted from regional development efforts. Location and education levels, not surprisingly, were strong influences on economic performance.
The authors warned that a reliance on the coal industry, particularly is Central Appalachia, "conflicts with the need for long-term economic diversification and sustainability."

Tourism was a common theme in the report as one such method for that diversification. The report concludes with a series of recommendations, some for the ARC, and some for Appalachian counties themselves. Those recommendations include:
  • "embrac[ing] the Internet and social networking to promote tourism, build community, encourage local buying, and increase government services and transparency
  • "develop[ing] youth leadership programs and encourage youth participation in entrepreneurship, college mentoring, and planning projects."
  • devoting more resources to tourism development (marketing and hospitality) and "ducation, leadership development, and entrepreneurship programs."
  • partnering with academic institutions for educational programs, services, planning and projects. 
The ARC has been holding events to explore these and other ideas in their "Livable Communities" workshops. The next one will be held on July 12 in Kingsport, TN.