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May 1, 2015 – National Association of Counties, By Kathy Nothstine

Last week, a group of county and regional leaders convened in Pike County, Ky., bound by a common interest in finding new ways to grow their economies. Based in communities that have long been reliant on the coal industry, these leaders came together to share ideas and learn about innovative strategies to create jobs and improve quality of life through changing economic times.

National Association of Communities (NACo) hosted this workshop in Pikeville from April 22 – 24 in partnership with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, as part of a larger effort to support communities seeking to diversify their economies and create jobs. Known as the Innovation Challenge for Coal-Reliant Communities, this effort is centered on three workshops, the first of which was the Pikeville event.

Workshop participants meeting around a conference table
The Harlan County, Kentucky, team strategizes economic revitalization. (NACo)

Since broad community collaboration is essential to addressing the complexities of economic development, counties and regions were asked to form teams comprising multi-sector stakeholders to compete to win a spot to attend the Pikeville workshop. The winning teams brought together county and city officials and staff, regional economic development practitioners, workforce development professionals, representatives of school boards and higher education, and more. The teams included counties in eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and West Virginia, as well as Moffat County, Colo. (full list available here).

Prior to the event, participating teams were asked to think through their goals for the workshop and outline the biggest challenges they are facing, which they presented on the first day of the event. Number one among the challenges listed? Jobs. Everyone voiced concerns about how contractions in the coal industry has meant fewer local jobs, which in turn has impacted small businesses and the local tax base and led to population loss. The loss of young people was a particular issue brought up repeatedly.

In response, keynote speakers and panelists highlighted the importance of embracing diverse leaders to foster economic growth and community prosperity. Chuck Fluharty, President and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, stated, “Rural places must build collaborative leadership networks and embrace current demographic changes: engage younger, more diverse leaders and make sure you get more women into leadership roles.” Chuck also noted that economic growth and community cohesion cannot be achieved without addressing social equity. Similarly, Kelly Ryan, President and CEO of Incourage Community Foundation (Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.) directed counties and regions in coal country to envision diverse, collaborative leadership networks in their regions, and to bring those values into their own organizational structures.

During a panel discussion, participants discussed how to cultivate pride and ownership in their communities, as well how to encourage residents and business owners to embrace change. Commissioner Matt Wender of Fayette County, Va., noted “It’s amazing what you can do as a community if you don’t worry about who gets credit for it.”

Indeed, the workshop focused on strengthening each team’s ability to collaborate and implement change upon returning home. During the workshop, participants learned about economic diversification and community leadership strategies via plenary presentations and small group dialogues on specific topics (such as entrepreneurship, broadband development and workforce training). In between those sessions, teams regrouped to map out their short-term goals and paths for achieving those goals in the next 100 days, known as their “Implementation Roadmaps”.

As participants strategized action steps, several themes quickly emerged. Unsurprisingly, strategies to help coal miners find work was paramount, as were ways to bolster job opportunities for young people so they can remain in their communities. Participants also brainstormed ways to build an entrepreneurial culture in their communities, support small business growth, nurture growing industries and leverage broadband infrastructure.

Josh Barnes of EDA spoke with the group to explain the Administration’s recently launched Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative, a new interagency effort to assist communities negatively impacted by changes in the coal industry and power sector. Earlier this week, EDA announced the availability of $3 million in planning assistance to communities impacted, or which may be impacted, by contractions in the coal economy (more information available at www.eda.gov/power).

At the close of the workshop, each team presented their Implementation Roadmaps and explained how this event would enable them to expand and deepen economic development efforts upon returning home. Sandi Curd, Promise Zone Coordinator for the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, speaking on behalf of Harlan County, Ky., said, “We’ve been having lots of community forums in Harlan County, so there is a lot of listening happening but with this workshop we want to take tangible ideas back to the community and get their input and ownership and to find out who it is that wants to move these into action.” The five-county area around Pikeville, covered by the Big Sandy Area Development District, set goals to collect and analyze data to map assets and identify clusters in the five-county region, while the adjacent counties to the north, covered by the FIVCO Area Development District, laid out plans to work with stakeholders in the region’s downtown areas to come up with ways to reinvest in historic centers. Erik Pages, President of EntreWorks Consulting, serving as the workshop facilitator, highlighted the progress each team made at the workshop, stating, “The introductory presentations on day one had many similarities, but now these closing presentations speak very specifically to their economic diversification goals.”

NACo and NADO Research Foundation will be working with each team to provide further assistance as they work towards these goals. Additionally, NACo unveiled a new web portal at the event. The Resources for Transitioning Economies website, located at diversifyeconomies.org, is a free resource stocked with tools, reports, case studies and other resource available to any county, community or region seeking to diversify and strengthen its local economy. Materials from the Pikeville workshop can be found at diversifyeconomies.org/pikeville-ky.

Later this year, NACo and NADO will be hosting two more workshops. Counties and regions that are economically linked to the coal industry are invited to form teams to apply to attend a workshop and access pre- and post-workshop support. For more information and to apply, visit naco.org/innovationchallenge or contact Kathy Nothstine at \n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ' target='_blank'> This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Jen Horton at \n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ' target='_blank'> This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.

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