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Leaders predict bright future

ASHLAND, Ky.

Monday, August 16, 1999

ASHLAND, Ky. – Progress in Appalachia now relies upon two factors – new workers and new markets. And both are located in the Tri-State, said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary Andrew Cuomo, speaking to more than 600 community and government leaders Thursday.

"This is not the stereotypical Appalachia of 1964," Cuomo said. "It’s an Appalachia that has made tremendous, tremendous strides in growth."

Poverty rates fell from 33 percent to 13 percent. Counties once considered distressed have lower unemployment rates. And more than 3,000 miles of roads have been built by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

"That is a great story of success but the story also says the final chapter needs to be written," Cuomo said. "We are not as strong as we should be."

Several economic factors are now in Appalachia’s favor and will spur more growth, he said.

The workers are right here in Appalachia, he added. And location is less of an issue because with a satellite, cell phone and computer, businesses can go anywhere, he said.

"The economy is historically strong," Cuomo said. "Use it. You have the business."

Local officials attending Thursday said they will tap into today’s stronger economy, and use Appalachia’s resources – if the federal government keeps its commitment to the recent $100 million federal Empowerment Zone grant.

"If we’re permitted to finish our plan, we will have arrived at a goal over and above what they’ve set," Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Pat Clonch said.

City and county leaders already have identified the obstacles to growth and the funding needed to overcome them, and one question remains, Mrs. Clonch said.

"Are we truly going to receive the funding?"

The Empowerment Zone targets poor areas in Huntington, W.Va., and Ironton and establishes areas for industrial job development, such as the former South Point Ethanol plant site.

The area expected to receive $10 million a year for 10 years when the feds approved the zone designation, but money has been short this year, Mrs. Clonch said.

Congress is expected to debate the issue when it reconvenes in September and a Washington, D.C., trip is planned to urge support, she said.

Mrs. Clonch is coordinating that trip with other Ohio Empowerment Zone officials in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.

Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary said mayors in every Appalachian state face the same obstacles

Working together on projects like the Empowerment Zone will benefit everybody from Ironton to Huntington to Ashland, he said.

And events like Thursday’s summit are important because they bring together the people who can make change happen when they hear about local government’s needs, Cleary said.

Cabinet secretaries from HUD, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were on hand to hear from a panel of private and public community leaders, who spoke on how to abate development obstacles.

Some ideas included:

– Rural areas need latitude with government programs. Bend the rules when it makes sense to help local programs meet the needs of the people.

– In HUD’s many housing programs, there needs to be checks and balances but there also needs to be a way to cut through the red tape. HUD and other cabinets need the flexibility and speed of the private sector.

– Conduct a comprehensive review of EPA regulations because they do not fit with Appalachia’s developmental problems, specifically the lack of flat land.

– If residents are going to set trailers on lots, then Appalachia should find a way to build them here. Employment associated with trailers is not here and almost all purchase money leaves the area.

– Meet basic needs of children first: food and shelter.

– Public incentive dollars for new industry also should include stock in the company for workers and communities.

– New agriculture infrastructure is needed, such as with expanding farms to include processing and distribution.

– Train the undertrained and give access to inaccessible areas.