ARC sets goal of creating 200,000 jobs in 10 years
By HANK HAYES
December 05, 2004
Update 2012: they failed.
The number "2" figures prominently in all four main performance goals in the Appalachian Regional Commission's recently released long-term strategic plan. Over the next decade, the ARC wants to create 200,000 jobs, come up with improved sewer and water infrastructure for 200,000 households, give 200,000 people more education and job skills, and open up 250 more miles of the Appalachian Development Highway System.
The strategic plan is the result of a planning effort launched late last year by the ARC with a series of meetings and field forums in its 13-state service area, including one held in Kingsport hosted by ARC Federal Co-Chair and Kingsport native Anne Pope. About 1,000 people participated in the field forums, according to the ARC. The ARC began its mission in 1965 to beat down poverty in more than 200 of the region's economically distressed counties.
"In fiscal year 2004, over 90 counties were still classified as severely distressed," the plan says. "Increased global competition and technological change have resulted in job losses and restructuring in many key Appalachian industries. Because of its rugged terrain and high proportion of rural residents, Appalachia is at risk of falling behind in the implementation and use of modern technology and telecommunications, a necessary component of competitiveness in today's economy."
The ARC defines distressed counties as those areas having a three-year average unemployment rate that is at least 1.5 times the national average; a per capita market income that is two-thirds or less the U.S. average of $25,676; and a poverty rate that is at least 1.5 times the U.S. average of 12.4 percent. In Northeast Tennessee, Johnson and Hancock counties are considered distressed, as are Buchanan and Dickenson counties in Southwest Virginia.
The ARC's future methods to lift up distressed counties sound much like the old ones. According to the plan, the ARC will continue to work with local development districts to leverage public and private dollars in regional economic development and to strengthen basic infrastructure.
Getting year-to-year federal funding has been a challenge for the ARC since its inception, but that apparently won't be the case next year. The ARC's level $54.7 million budget for area development next year expects to support job creation in five major areas: Providing clean water to Appalachian communities; expanding access to high-speed broadband; moving toward parity with the nation in educational attainment; reducing the disparity between Appalachia and the rest of the country in the rates of certain chronic diseases; and capitalizing on Appalachia's cultural heritage and natural beauty.
The ARC's $66 million 2005 budget for community and economic development programs also represents level funding for the agency. The ARC also anticipates receiving another $450 million for the Appalachian Development Highway System through the U.S. Transportation Equity Act.
The ARC points out inconsistent or inadequate funding would impact its ability to implement its long-term strategic plan. Other external challenges to the plan could include a downturn in the nation's economy and unanticipated demographic shifts in the region, such as an increase in population aging and high levels of new settlers with low education and language skills, according to the ARC.
"The region continues to battle economic distress, concentrated areas of high poverty, high unemployment rates, educational disparities, high rates of disease and population migration," the ARC strategic plan says. The ARC is a partnership of 13 states and the federal government working with 72 local development districts.
For more about the ARC and to view a complete copy of the strategic plan go to http://www.arc.gov/
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