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ARC unveils plan for distressed counties

October 18, 2000

ARC unveils plan for distressed counties



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - An $85 million plan to ensure economically disadvantaged counties in Appalachia enjoy the same strong economic growth the rest of the nation has achieved was approved here Wednesday.

The proposal was approved by the Appalachian Regional Commission, a 35-year-old organization that has funneled $7.8 billion into the Appalachian region for social and economic development since its inception.

The proposal approved by the commission would concentrate economic growth programs to 114 "economically distressed" counties in states including Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Rapidly growing areas like Jefferson County and Berkeley County do not fit into that picture.

Jefferson County is considered "competitive" because it has an economy that is approaching the national normal level, and Berkeley and Morgan counties are considered "transitional," according to the commission.

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Transitional counties are those where the economy is operating better than distressed counties but it still below national economic normal levels, the commission said.

The commission wanted to hold its fall meeting at the Clarion Inn and Conference Center in Shepherdstown Wednesday to showcase a vibrant economy in Appalachia, said Mike Kiernan, spokesman for the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The meeting was held in West Virginia because Gov. Cecil Underwood, who was at Wednesday's meeting, is the state's co-chairman of the commission.

Much of the focus behind the $85 million plan approved Wednesday is getting distressed counties the Internet access and other high-tech capabilities they need to jump-start their economies, according to Kiernan.

It is important that distressed counties have access to high technology to ensure that problems the Appalachian region faced with the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s and 1960s is not repeated again, Kiernan said. Appalachia was largely ignored when the interstate system was first built, which put them behind economically, Kiernan said.

"We don't want to see that happen with the information highway," Kiernan said.

The assistance could include helping health clinics start telemedicine programs, wiring schools or libraries to the Internet, or showing private companies how to bid on contracts through the Internet, said Kiernan.

The initiative is divided into two parts, the first one costing a little over $10 million and the second one costing $75 million. The commission has funding for the first phase, but will be looking to Congress to fund the $75 million portion, Kiernan said.

"This has to be an agenda item for the new president," Jess White, the commission's federal co-chairman told commission members at the meeting.

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