Remember the Appalachian Regional Commission?

Hank Hayes • Mar 5, 2018 at 8:30 AM

President Trump wanted an old federal agency that supports economic development in Appalachia to go away.

Trump proposed cutting the Appalachian Regional Commission out of the federal budget last year, but that didn’t happen and the president subsequently named his nominee to take over as the agency’s federal co-chair.

What is the Appalachian Regional Commission?

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government. Established by an act of Congress in 1965, ARC is composed of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair, who is appointed by the president. Local participation is provided through multi-county local development districts. ARC invests in activities that address the five goals identified in the commission’s strategic plan: Invest in economic opportunities; develop a ready workforce; invest in infrastructure; leverage the region’s natural and cultural assets; and build leadership and community capacity.

ARC’s funding stream appears paltry compared to other federal agencies.

For the 2017 fiscal year, ARC approved $152.3 million in funding for 591 area development projects. That funding, according to ARC, attracted an additional $206.1 million in other project funding and $735.3 million in non-project leveraged private investment. ARC, in its annual report, said the projects funded during the year will create or retain an estimated 21,341 jobs and train an estimated 30,263 students, workers, and leaders in new skills.

What did ARC do in Tennessee last year?

ARC said it supported 54 projects totaling more than $11.4 million. Those investments, according to ARC, have been matched by nearly $6.9 million and will attract an additional $92.1 million in leveraged private investments. The agency said more than 800 jobs were created or retained, and 2,800 students and workers were trained.

Maybe the most significant investment was $500,000 in ARC support for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s “Project 95” initiative to build a call center facility in Hancock County. State officials recently announced Johnson City-based Allied Dispatch Solutions will be the tenant for that facility and create more than 100 jobs.

Ten Appalachian counties in Tennessee were considered economically distressed in 2017. Project 95 is Tennessee’s long-term effort to eliminate all federally designated distressed counties by 2025.

What did ARC do in Virginia last year?

ARC supported 42 Virginia projects with $11.2 million. These investments, ARC reported, have been matched by nearly $11.1 million and will attract $35 million in leveraged private investments. All total, 915 jobs were created and 290 students were trained, according to ARC.

In particular, ARC stressed its Southwest Virginia investments were targeted to improve outcomes in areas impacted by the downturn of the coal industry. One $950,000 grant went to Mountain Empire Community College to deploy a new power lineman training program in Big Stone Gap. Friends of Southwest Virginia in Abingdon are using a $3 million grant to enhance the outdoor recreation industry.

Three Virginia counties were considered economically distressed in 2017.

The breakdown of funds used was detailed in a performance and accountability report submitted by ARC.

“ARC has made every effort to provide a complete and accurate report of its performance and stewardship of the public funds entrusted to it,” ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl and States’ Co-Chair Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania said in a joint statement.

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