Two Commentaries on Appalachia’s Future

The Daily Yonder has been featuring a thoughtful, on-going conversation about what's next for post-coal Appalachia. This latest column, "Change the Economy First," posits that political change won't happen before economic diversification. Author Thomas Miller cites the "resource curse" as a reason why. The resource curse has many facets, but Miller cites one key one pertinent to Central Appalachia: "Extractive industries, especially those that dominate a region’s economy, do tend to control the politics and raise wages and other costs beyond what other businesses and industries can afford. Politics and community life can get polarized very quickly as some see big benefits from extraction but others see only the costs." Because of this, says Miller, before attempting to change the politics, we must first build up a different economy with a foundation of entrepreneurs:

A strong community of local entrepreneurs is what we need most, for our civic life as well as our economy.  Of course, it would be better to work on political reform as well as building local entrepreneurship.  They are in no way mutually exclusive.  
 
I vote for direct action in support of local entrepreneurs, strategies that help them step forward and plan new or expanded businesses, that help with management and technical needs, that provide risk capital and problem solving assistance. Entrepreneurship is central to our future, and in most communities we are doing absolutely nothing to help build it. Isn’t that a rather glaring oversight? 
It's interesting to juxtapose Miller's commentary against that of Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette. A recent post of his on the Coal Tattoo blog asked "When Will W.Va. plan for after coal?" Ward has long been critical of West Virginia politicians' inaction on economic diversification. He cites a series of articles written back in 2000 about the decline of coal that could have easily been written today: 

To Bias and others, Boone County and much of southern West Virginia seem unprepared for coal’s decreasing role in their economy. Little has been done, Bias says, to court new jobs. Little has been done to prepare young people for a life without mining. Now state and county leaders are realizing that needs to change. Soon.
Remember that that was written over twelve years ago. In the same post, Ward reports that a state press conference features "a lot of hand-wringing about the state of the coal industry," but "very little talk about is exactly what West Virginia is going to do — and when we might actually start doing it — to enable the state to better deal with the ongoing decline of the Central Appalachian coal industry."
 
It's heartening that the tone of the conversation seems to be changing – at least among some groups – as evidenced by the commentaries in the Yonder and from newspaper editorial boards, and even by calls for a permanent severance tax endowment to help coal communities weather a low-coal future. And, as Miller says, there is much we can do as community members to support our small businesses and entrepreneurs who are such a critical component to revitalizing Appalachia's economy. But without political leadership, can we achieve the systemic change that we need?