About 150 people from six states gathered in Morgantown Tuesday, June 16, to tell the Appalachian Regional Commission what they think the organization can do to help the region take advantage of emerging opportunities. The ARC will use the information collected at the Morgantown listening session and four others to develop a plan to guide its economic and community development efforts during the next five years.
The Appalachian Regional Commission was created as an economic development agency in 1964 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. The ARC partners with federal, state and local government to advocate for sustainable community and economic development across the region.
The Morgantown listening session was the last of five held across Appalachia to gather information about how the ARC can best direct its resources. Previous sessions were held in North Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
“ARC’s updating its strategic plan. This is a guide to help the agency invest its funds over the next five or so years,” said Kostas Skordas, the ARC’s director of regional planning and research.
“But it also helps us to go out into communities to listen to the experts from the region — community members, workers, folks who own businesses, who work for nonprofits, who work for local governments to hear what what ideas and emerging opportunities they’re seeing in their communities, because that will inform the strategic plan process.”
Participants of the session came from all over West Virginia, but Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio were also represented.
Kelly Jo Drey is the county resource coordinator for Fayette County in West Virginia. She said she came to the session because she wanted to help shape the ARC’s strategic plan.
“I also wanted to hear hear what all of the other folks in the region are concerned about and, you know, learn about the issues that other local folks are working on in their communities,” Drey said.
Participants were broken up into groups of about four to six people. They were encouraged to mingle with people they didn’t know and share ideas about issues that affect their region.
Among other things, the groups were asked to come up with a list of emerging opportunities in the area that citizens could take advantage of. Things like promising new industries, reinventing old industries or unique regulatory mechanisms that could ease economic development.
The groups then came up with a list of barriers that prevent people from taking advantage of those opportunities and then ways the ARC can help overcome those barriers.
Skordas said that while different kinds of problems were emphasized in the earlier listening sessions, there were several common themes that emerged in all five.
“We heard a lot of concerns around the need for broadband and expanded telecommunications capacity and digital infrastructure. We heard that across the board. We heard themes around leadership and improving civic capacity and leadership development at the local level and in particular, supporting younger leaders to be better integrated into decision-making and governance at the local, state and regional level,” Skordas said.
The ARC will meet in July to further develop its five-year strategic plan. The final plan will be crafted in August. A governor’s review and approval of the plan is scheduled for October.
It’s not too late to have your say about the Appalachian Regional Commission’s strategic plan. The ARC is conducting an online survey as part of the plan’s development process. The deadline to complete the survey is Friday, June 19.