Economy

SOAR at 6: Group’s Lofty Goals for Coal Country Meet Challenges on the Ground

Sep 13, 2019
Rep. Hal Rogers and Gov. Matt Bevin announce the completion of east Kentucky’s middle mile of high-speed internet.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

In a conference hall in Pikeville, Kentucky, this September, Gov. Matt Bevin led an eager audience in a countdown. When the audience reached “One!,” a map on the screen behind the governor lit up with the promise of a high-tech future.

After years of delay and scandal, major portions of the commonwealth’s “middle mile” of high-speed internet were complete.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, many farmers wage a never-ending battle with weeds. “Pigweed” or as folks in Arkansas call it “Satan’s Weed” -- is one of the hardest to get rid of. 

Farmers across the nation are divided over the use of the controversial herbicide called Dicamba. The chemical has the tendency to drift and damage nearby crops and plants.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Us & Them host Trey Kay and his colleague Loretta Williams have been following the issue with their developing story called “Farm Wars.”

courtesy Brandon Dennison

The founder of a West Virginia job-training organization called Coalfield Development has been awarded $250,000 from the Heinz Family Foundation. 


Brandon Dennison is being recognized for his work to help address generational poverty in central and southern West Virginia.

The MARC train's Brunswick Line parked at the Martinsburg Train Station. Photo taken in Apr. 2018.
Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting


A few hundred people attended a public hearing in Charles Town over the weekend regarding the future of the MARC train service, or Maryland Area Regional Commuter, in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Maryland is asking West Virginia to either foot the bill or see a reduction in service.

A man on the train tracks. Near the scene of the miners' protest in Harlan Co., KY.
CURREN SHELDON

This week on Inside Appalachia, we’ll look at how our history is intertwined with our future. We’ll hear from coal miners and children about how they are reshaping Appalachia, while remembering the past. Also in this episode, we’ll hear from a woman who found recovery, and a job, after struggling with drug addiction for more than two decades.

And we’ll hear from some of the miners in Harlan County, Kentucky who are protesting their employer, coal operator Blackjewel LLC. We’ll talk about what the protest says about the state of organized labor in the mines.

Some of the crew aboard a tow boat operated by Amherst Madison in W.Va.
Eric Douglas/ WVPB

A decline in coal production over the past decade affected more than just coal miners. It also impacted the riverboat industry. Amherst Madison is a riverboat company based outside Charleston, West Virginia. For decades, the company has made most of their money towing coal barges. But a downturn in coal meant the company had to look for other ways to stay afloat. 

West Virginia Public Broadcasting spent some time with these folks inside the river industry, and we asked them what the future of the industry looks like.

hospital bed
Blogotron / wikimedia commons

Notices filed in West Virginia and Ohio reveal that 1,079 workers will lose their jobs when two hospitals are closed this fall.

Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley ReSource

Tom Folz drives around on a sunny, August afternoon and surveys the thousands of acres of dark green, leafy soybean plants and tall stalks of corn he grows on his sprawling farm in Christian County, Kentucky.

At 54, Folz has wispy, white hair matching his white mustache. It’s taken him several long work weeks to get his crop to where it is today.

“You got to be a little bit ‘off’ to be a farmer,” Folz said. ”You don’t get to enjoy anything during harvest and planting season because we’re working.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign stop Thursday, May 5, at the Morgantown Event Center.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders will visit Kentucky and West Virginia just days after releasing his plan to address climate change.

Sanders is scheduled to speak in Louisville, Kentucky, Sunday. He planned to visit Morgantown, West Virginia, Monday, but plans to visit the Mountain State have since been canceled.

Justin Hayhurst / 100 Days in Appalachia

 

For more than a decade, more than 100 migrant and refugee families from countries like Myanmar (formerly Burma), Vietnam, Ethiopia, Guatemala and others have come to Moorefield, West Virginia.

They’ve done so to work at Pilgrim’s Pride – a large poultry plant that is Hardy County’s biggest employer with 1,700 workers.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Health officials in Huntington, say a cluster of HIV infections has grown to 71 confirmed cases. That’s in a city that usually sees about eight HIV infections in a year. As with an earlier such cluster in northern Kentucky, the primary cause of infection is needle drug use.

Health officials say harm reduction programs are an effective tool against HIV, offering needle exchanges and health screening services. 

But as the Ohio Valley ReSource’s Mary Meehan explains, many people are wary of syringe exchanges. And in some places, that means programs are closing just when they’re most needed.

The Poultry Plant That’s Changed the Face of This Appalachian Town

Aug 15, 2019
Justin Hayhurst / 100 Days in Appalachia

When Sheena Van Meter graduated from Moorefield High School in 2000, her class was mainly comprised of the children of families that had long-planted roots in West Virginia’s eastern Potomac Highlands. Some were African American. Most were white. And for the Moorefield resident, the closest exposure she had to other cultures, before leaving for college, came in the form of an occasional foreign-exchange student. 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we continue a series that considers how some communities in our region have been impacted by deindustrialization. We also hear the latest in our ongoing series, “Wild, Wondering West Virginia.”

Nearly $37 million in general revenue surplus money will be given to West Virginia’s Medicaid program as well as the state’s Rainy Day emergency reserve fund.

Associate Producing Director Peggy McKowen and Founder and Producing Director Ed Herendeen speak at an event for the 2019 season of CATF. Photo taken May 2019.
Contemporary American Theater Festival / catf.org

The Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia just closed on its 29th season. The festival draws visitors from all over the world to West Virginia and has helped the state stand out in the professional theater scene.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

We continue a podcast series from the Northern Panhandle on this West Virginia Morning. The series is called What Happened to Weirton. In the third episode, titled As Goes the Mill, reporter Ella Jennings traces the town’s history as it slides from boom to bust.

Michael/Flickr

The West Virginia Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that the next round of Governor Jim Justice’s Secondary Roads Initiative is underway.

This Dec. 4, 2017, file photo shows the Pfizer company logo at the company's headquarters in New York.
Richard Drew / AP Photo

This is a developing story and may be updated.

Mylan Pharmaceuticals and a division of Pfizer have announced a deal that will create a new pharmaceutical company expected to bring in $19 billion-$20 billion in annual revenue. 

According to a news release, Mylan and Upjohn, the Pfizer subsidiary, hosted a Monday morning conference call with investors.

How a Proposed SNAP Eligibility Revision Could Affect Ohio Valley Recipients

Jul 25, 2019

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week a proposal to tighten the rules on who qualifies for food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). USDA estimates more than three million people across the country would lose SNAP benefits in an effort to prevent fraud. Anti-hunger advocates in the Ohio Valley say the more than two million people in the region who use the benefits would be impacted.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we hear a segment from part two of a series that explores de-industrialization in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle.

Ella Jennings, a native of the region, produced a podcast series called What Happened to Weirton. Her second episode, titled “He Could See Everything Folding”, looks at some of the social and emotional consequences that come with losing a major industry.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday, July 18, to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour by 2025, the first wage increase in a decade. One report predicts that in large portions of eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, and southeast Ohio, roughly 40 percent of workers would see some increase in wages. Becca Schimmel explains.

Ohio Valley Workers, Employers React as House Votes for $15 Minimum Wage

Jul 18, 2019

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the current $7.25 rate, which has not changed in a decade. The bill is unlikely to clear the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he will not take it up. 

Peabody Energy, Inc.
Wikimedia Commons

This story was updated on 7/16/19 at 4:35 p.m. EST.

A coal company with mines in Kentucky and West Virginia has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Father Jim Sichko, a Catholic priest and motivational speaker based in Lexington, paid the electric bills of about 200 out-of-work coal miners in Harlan on Monday.
Will Wright / Lexington Herald-Leader

A priest in Kentucky handed out more than $20,000 on Monday to miners struggling to pay bills after the coal company they work for filed for bankruptcy protection.

People crowded Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Harlan as Father Jim Sichko signed checks for more than 100 miners who are currently out of work, news outlets reported.

How a Carbon Tax Could End Some Coal Towns, or Fund a New Future

Jul 15, 2019
Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

Declining coal tax revenues place coal-reliant counties in Appalachia at risk of fiscal collapse, according to new research from the centrist Brookings Institution and Columbia University. Policies designed to prevent further climate change would accelerate that decline, the report found, but could also provide a new stream of revenue to help communities rebound from coal’s demise.

What Happened to Weirton? Part 4: Where is God Today?

Jul 15, 2019
Ella Jennings

The consequences of deindustrialization manifest in many different ways.

Sherry Linkon and John Russo, two prominent scholars in working class studies, have written several books and articles about this topic, and at this point, they find you can easily make a list of what will happen when industry leaves. Let’s run down it.

What Happened to Weirton? Part 3: As Goes the Mill...

Jul 15, 2019
West Virginia & Regional History Center

“History tells us, like it or not, as goes the mill, so goes Weirton, in good times and bad.”

This is a quote from Dr. David Javersak, a former professor and local Ohio Valley historian, from his book, "History of Weirton." There’s a lot of truth in that statement: Weirton would have never existed without the mill. And up until its fateful bankruptcy, the town fully depended on Weirton Steel, like any devoted company town. This episode will trace through some of the highlights of Weirton’s history, providing an overview of its prominence and decline.

Ella Jennings

One person’s story can change your outlook on an entire town. Unfortunately, their story can leave you with more questions than answers.

By 2018, around 10,000 people had already left Weirton in search of a better life. I wanted to find someone who had stayed in the area and could tell me about their experience with the mill’s downfall. This led me to a story written in 2006 by an Associated Press reporter, Vicki Smith.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the American Medical Association marked a milestone last month. The largest professional association for physicians in the United States inaugurated its first African American woman as its leader. The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Aaron Payne recently spoke with the newly elected president, who has a unique understanding of West Virginia. And she says the organization will work for patients and physicians as they face some of the nation’s toughest health challenges.

Ella Jennings

In Appalachia, we know too well the symptoms of industry in decline. However, some aspects are much more visual than others.

On March 9, I stood anxiously with a crowd of Weirton natives and former steelworkers on a hillside in Weirton, West Virginia, overlooking Weirton Steel’s Basic Oxygen Plant, or BOP. Thousands of people contributed to the steelmaking process in the huge structure since its construction in 1967. Now, they were offering their final goodbyes.

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