Economy

Kristi Reyes spends time with her grandson in her new home.
Mary Meehan / Ohio Valley ReSource

Cancer was what finally pushed Kristi Reyes into living in her car.

The mother of four had worked all her life, starting at age 7 when she helped out at her family’s furniture store. Most of her work was in retail. It was paycheck-to-paycheck but she kept her kids together and a roof over their heads.

The MARC train parked at the Martinsburg train station. The service currently offers six trains, Monday through Friday, in West Virginia, but that could be reduced to two trains if West Virginia does not pay Maryland $2.3 million by the end of November.
Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting


Local municipalities in the Eastern Panhandle have come together to provide some funding for the Maryland Area Regional Commuter, or MARC train, but it remains unclear if it will be enough to keep the service in West Virginia.

A guard tower at the United States Penitentiary, Big Sandy, stands as a sentinel along Kentucky Route 3 in Martin County.
Roger May / For Yes! Magazine

Big Sandy hides on a big hill. If you’re not looking for the federal prison, you’ll miss it easily. At first, all that can be seen above the soaring Kentucky cliffs, jagged granite dotted with green scruff, are lights. They look like the lights for a high school football field, or maybe a mall. Then the guard towers loom into view. You can’t see the razor wire from the road.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, for some, The Hatfield and McCoy Feud has become synonymous with the type of mischaracterization of Appalachians that we’d like to leave behind. Full of bloodshed and revenge, a New York Times article in 1896 referred to the Hatfields and McCoys as having an “utter disregard of human life.” The fact that the families got their income from illegal moonshining has also been used to discredit them as outlaws.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the Hatfield and McCoy ATV trail system that runs through southern West Virginia is an example of how people are using the well-known history of the infamous feud to boost the economy.

Other businesses in the region have cropped up in recent years with the name -- most of them catering to trail riders. Inside Appalachia host Jessica Lilly met one family in Gilbert who are attracting visitors by sharing a piece of their tradition, craft, and even their story.

Murray Energy’s Bankruptcy Could Bring Collapse Of Coal Miners’ Pensions

Nov 4, 2019
Retired Kentucky miner Virgil Stanley at a UMWA rally for pension protections.
Becca Schimmel / Ohio Valley ReSource file photo

The recent bankruptcy of Ohio Valley coal giant Murray Energy has renewed fears about the already shaky financial foundations of the pension plan that tens of thousands of miners and their families depend upon.

The seismic collapse of yet another coal employer has lawmakers from the region renewing their push to fix the United Mine Workers pension fund, and has even raised broader concerns about pensions for a range of other trades.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, some communities are trying to think outside the box to help people struggling with addiction. In the Potomac Highlands of the Eastern Panhandle, law enforcement, faith-based organizations and community members want to create one robust network of support. As Liz McCormick reports, the network strives to fight the stigma associated with substance abuse disorder and offer a safety net that some say feels like a family.

Emily Allen / WVPB

When in the late 1990’s a group of recreational-vehicle enthusiasts began developing a network of riding trails in Southern West Virginia, it didn’t take them long to pick a title that would immediately garner name recognition for the region.


West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Inside Appalachia takes a ride along the Hatfield and McCoy ATV trail this weekend. It’s an extensive trail system built out in a place where the job market has been hit hard by downturns in the coal industry. It’s one way the region is pumping new life into the economy, using a familiar family feud name, and ATVs, to draw people to the region. The Hatfield & McCoy ATV Trail system has been up and running in southern West Virginia since the early 2000’s. Emily Allen reports.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This past summer, the executive director of a nonprofit called Coalfield Development was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Heinz Family Foundation. 

That director -- Brandon Dennison, who helped found Coalfield Development almost 10 years ago -- says the money will go toward a lifelong learning fund for his employees.

The group operates mostly in southern West Virginia. It has about 60 full-time workers now, all working on different enterprises meant to diversify West Virginia’s economy. Emily Allen spoke with Dennison. We hear some of their conversation.

Protesting miners block train tracks in morning fog.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource file photo

Coal miners who went without pay when mining company Blackjewel declared bankruptcy this June are one step closer to receiving lost wages. The checks come weeks after some of the miners ended a long-running protest, and months after the federal Department of Labor first intervened to allege the company violated labor laws in the month before it folded.

Glasses given to attendees of the Happy Retreat Wine & Jazz Festival on June 9, 2018.
Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Gov. Jim Justice said he wants to expand West Virginia's winemaking industry. On Wednesday, Justice said he is asking officials in the state's commerce and agricultural agencies to look into growing the wine business in the eastern panhandle. Having more vineyards and wineries in West Virginia will boost tourism and local economies, according to Justice. He noted that Virginia has benefited from promoting its winemaking industry where the state borders West Virginia's eastern panhandle.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Last week, the family of a Navy veteran John Hallman filed a notice of a wrongful death suit against the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Hallman’s death is being investigated as one in a string of suspicious deaths at the Louis A. Johnson V-A Medical Center in Clarksburg. Senior reporter Dave Mistich spoke with Tony O’Dell -- the attorney representing Hallman’s family and others in the case. 

Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

 

A Polish family-owned cosmetics business has decided to place its United States flagship in West Virginia. The family hopes to open a manufacturing facility in Martinsburg in five years.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, last-minute settlement negotiations in Ohio are proceeding in a closely watched case against some companies that made or sold opioid painkillers.

It’s the first hearing of the National Prescription Opiate Litigation, which consolidated thousands of lawsuits brought by state, county and local governments. The stakes are enormous, especially for the Ohio Valley, which has some of the worst rates of addiction and overdose deaths.

As the Ohio Valley ReSource’s Aaron Payne reports, the hardest-hit communities have no shortage of needs, and plenty of ideas for how money won from a judgement or settlement should be used.

West Virginia Department of Education

Steven Paine, Ed.D., currently serves as West Virginia’s state superintendent for the second time in his career. He was the 25th state superintendent of schools from 2005 – 2011 and took up the post again in March of 2017 to become the 31st superintendent. He’s now also considered the longest serving state superintendent of schools in the country.

He recently sat down with West Virginia Public Broadcasting to discuss the state of education in the Mountain State.

Hemp Farmers Form Cooperatives Amid Growth And Uncertainty

Oct 14, 2019
Tony Silvernail (left) and Shawn Lucas (right) inside their high tunnel where hemp is drying.
Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley ReSource

Tony Silvernail swings a heavy machete at a stalk of bushy hemp and chops the plant near the root, grabbing the five-foot-tall shoot with his sun-weathered hand. 

It’s an unusually hot October day on his farm, Beyond The Bridge LLC, tucked in the hills outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. But the heat doesn’t faze Silvernail, sporting a sweat-soaked shirt, a huge smile, and a fat cigar between his teeth.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, some Ohio Valley farmers are reaping their first hemp harvest since federal law changed to legalize hemp. With some 27,000 acres under production in the region, hemp is booming. But it remains a risky crop, with uncertainty about markets, growing practices, and concern that larger players might squeeze out small growers.

The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Liam Niemeyer reports some hemp farmers are forming new cooperatives to reduce that risk and protect small farmers.

Scott Allen, who runs Pettit Creek Farms in bone-dry Bartow County, Ga., poses for a photo Oct. 7, 2019.
Jeff Martin / Associated Press

— Across a vast expanse of the South stretching from Texas to Maryland, there are growing concerns for the cattle, cotton and corn amid a worsening drought fueled by this summer’s record high temperatures.

One of the bullseyes marking the nation’s driest areas is Bartow County, Georgia, where extreme drought has kicked up buckets of dust and left cattle pastures bare. The farm country northwest of Atlanta is among the hardest hit spots in a dozen Southern states where more than 45 million residents are now living in some type of drought conditions, the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor report shows.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we hear from WVPB’s podcast Us & Them. Host Trey Kay speaks with journalist Timothy Pratt, who produced an investigative series for 100 Days in Appalachia about undocumented seasonal workers who’ve struggled to recover from Hurricane Florence. That storm hit the Carolina coast in the fall of 2018.

Blackhawk Mining says it's closing three mines and two preparation plants in West Virginia amid weak global coal markets.

The Kentucky-based coal company on Tuesday announced the idling of its facilities in Logan and Mingo counties.

Why Worker Training Programs Alone Won’t Save Coal Country

Oct 8, 2019
Participants in a West Virginia worker training program offered by Coalfield Development Corporation.
Rebecca Kiger / Ohio Valley ReSource

Bobby Bowman mined coal in West Virginia for 12 years before his employer shut down.

“I don’t think that mine will ever open again,” he said.

Bowman lives in Welch, in the south of the state, where he worked at the Pinnacle Mine, which shut down almost exactly one year ago, putting him and about 400 others out of work. After waiting a month in hopes someone would buy Pinnacle and the mine would reopen, Bowman decided to do a four-week training program offered by the United Mine Workers Career Center. He enjoyed it and earned a certification in heavy equipment operation. But when he came back home, he struggled to find a job in the field. So Bowman took matters into his own hands.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the U.S. Department of Labor recently announced nearly $5 million dollars for worker training programs in Appalachia. It’s the latest influx of funding aimed at blunting the job losses in the region’s coal sector. But critics of those programs say worker training alone is no solution. The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Becca Schimmel reports.

The Trump administration has proposed a new rule governing the wages of tipped employees, after an earlier effort sparked a backlash from waitstaff, bartenders and other workers.

Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Standing on the breezy outlook at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton City Manager Fred Ramey is taking in the panoramic view of downtown Norton, Virginia. The brick building-lined streets are framed by the verdant, rolling Appalachian mountains. Jagged, brown scars from mountaintop mining operations can be seen in the distance, reminders of the region’s history of coal production.

Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting


From 2010 to 2018, Berkeley County, West Virginia has grown in population by nearly 13,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

That’s more than 1,500 new people each year. While population growth can be a great thing – it adds to the economy and the workforce – it also takes a toll on roads. 

Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A news release Friday from the Kanawha County Commission says the layoffs are planned at the Chemours plant in Belle.

The company formed as a spinoff from DuPont in 2015 and currently employs 207 people at the facility along the Kanawha River.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Appalachia’s coal country is struggling to diversify its local economies amid the sharp declines in employment at mines and power plants. An eastern Kentucky organization called SOAR, or “Shaping Our Appalachian Region,” is trying to help.

The group is betting big on high-speed internet and industrial development. But as the Ohio Valley ReSource’s Sydney Boles reports, those are proving tough items to deliver in the rural, coal mining region.

US Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Census Bureau released data last week that showed the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line went down for the first time since the Great Recession of 2008. 

Overall, the number of people living in poverty, nationwide, decreased by half a percentage point from 2017 to 2018 covering nearly 1.5 million people.

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.

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