COVID-19 could not have hit at a worse time in regard to our economy.
Before the pandemic, we were already fighting and struggling to re-establish our footing after the loss of the coal industry as a primary economic driver. The pandemic didn’t end those efforts. However, it did make them more difficult.
Business closures and a slowdown in marketing efforts ensued. Some of the primary ways we market our communities to outsiders — through events and adventure/arts/cultural tourism — were brought to a standstill or significantly slowed.
It has definitely been frustrating.
But it clearly hasn’t been a completely fruitless time. Economic development efforts remain underway and, while they had to take a different tactic, marketing of the region and its workforce continued, albeit mostly a distance, sometimes not.
The search for funding continues as well.
Last week, the Appalachian Regional Commission announced the awarding of $46.4 million in POWER grants, funding which only went to coal-producing areas and is mainly being used to boost the local economy through funding of projects and educational opportunities.
One large grant coming back to our area is nearly $1.2 million coming to Big Sandy Community and Technical College to create the East Kentucky Welding Technology and AWS Training Center. This center will increase welding and fabrication training and certification in the area.
Pikeville Medical Center received funding to equip its Medical Training Facility and Career Development Center project, while SOAR will use some of the funding for a project to help expand broadband in the area. The City of Pikeville received funding intended to help it capitalize on the Breaks Interstate Park.
Again, the pandemic may have taken a bit of the bounce out of our step, but it clearly didn’t end the efforts toward economic development and diversification. And there’s more going on under the surface which will potentially come to fruition in the coming months and years and which could serve to establish an even better future economy for our area.
One characteristic which is often mentioned when it comes to the people of Central Appalachia is resilience, the ability to recover quickly from difficulties.
COVID-19 may have done its best to try to end those efforts to establish a better future, but it hasn’t accomplished that yet. These grants are the proof that the work continues and will continue.
We must apply our resilience through this pandemic and beyond to get there.