• 63°

ARC earmarks #036;85 million for region

Town meetings held this summer in Ironton and six other cities led to an Appalachian Regional Commission plan to spend $85 million over the next five years to help pull 114 distressed Appalachian counties out of poverty.

Monday, October 30, 2000

Town meetings held this summer in Ironton and six other cities led to an Appalachian Regional Commission plan to spend $85 million over the next five years to help pull 114 distressed Appalachian counties out of poverty.

The plan, unveiled Oct. 19, guarantees $10 million to begin economic development efforts, said Joy Padgett, director of Ohio’s Governor’s Office of Appalachia.

The remaining $75 million would have to be budgeted by Congress, said Jesse White, the commission’s federal co-chairman.

The ARC says the money is needed to improve telephone and Internet service, which is crucial to linking the region to international commerce.

Padgett agreed, adding that there will be matching money for private, local government and state government, especially to wire areas with T1 lines and other high-speed Internet connections.

Padgett said affordable, high-speed access to the Internet and other telecommunications came up time after time in the town meetings with government officials, businesspeople and residents in southeast Ohio.

"This is all an idea, but to me this is far more critical than roads," Padgett said.

The ARC can come back to build roads.

When roads are the issue, communities basically compete with their neighbors for dollars. But with technology, communities are competing with the world, she said.

"If we (Ohio) make sure we don’t get bypassed on this, then we can have electronic proximity with anybody."

The state also recently initiated the first meetings between West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio officials to look at a regional kind of telecommunications package, Padgett said.

The ARC’s $85 million plan includes things needed to do business and boost the opportunity to compete in Appalachia, she added.

The money is not much by itself, but ARC officials hope to make an impact by coordinating services.

For example, if a private company says it cannot afford to bring in more expensive communication lines, it tends to ask local governments for help, Padgett said.

Where before grants for that type of activities might not have been available, the ARC’s $10 million and $75 million plan is changing that, Padgett said.

A company could partner with governments, hospitals, schools and others to increase the community’s ability to put high-tech communications to work, she said.

The plan awaits a final decision by Appalachian governors during their February meeting, but officials are optimistic, Padgett said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.