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Appalacian Regional Commission strengthen’s region

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of commentaries from governors of states comprising the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency for the region.

Since 1965, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has been dedicated to improving economic health of Appalachia. Over $4.5 billion has been invested, from small business assistance to broadband deployment to workforce development. The key to ARCás success comes from the agencyás guiding principle of collaboration and cooperation ä between the 13 Appalachian states of the region, including Ohio, between the federal-state-local governments, and across political party lines. Each ARC governor sits on the Commission, and I am honored to serve as ARC state Co-Chair for 2021.

I asked all 13 ARC governors and ARC federal Co-Chair Gayle Conelly Manchin to participate in an opinion editorial exchange. Now through October, 34 newspapers, including this one, will run these opinion pieces weekly, either in print or online. I hope this public exchange of ideas will facilitate cross-government collaboration, raise the profile of ARC and demonstrate that communities face similar challenges.

ARCás collaborative approach is successful because it mirrors the can-do attitude and partnership-building of the people who call Appalachia home. When portions of Appalachia were being left in the dark in the 1930s, communities throughout the ARC footprint formed cooperatives and electrified their homes. As some traditional industries have declined in the region, Appalachia faces a decisive crossroad to determine its future. In Virginia, we have taken the approach of building on the regionás unique assets ä a strong education system, a talented workforce, unique advantages in agriculture, energy and manufacturing, low cost of living, one-of-a-kind culture, unmatched natural beauty and outdoor recreation, and vibrant downtowns and rural communities filled with new economic opportunities.

ARC has been a critical partner. The renaissance of St. Paul, a small mountain town, is a great example of impact ARC can have in partnership with a vibrant and visionary set of local and regional private and public sector leaders.

St. Paul leveraged the townás proximity to beautiful mountains and the Clinch River, one of the most biodiverse rivers in the Northern Hemisphere, to create new opportunities for outdoor recreation. The Spearhead Trails, a network of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, all-terrain vehicles, etc., were created with local and state investment, and seed funding from ARC. Eight years since opening, Spearhead offers 600 miles of trails and sells approximately 10,000 permits annually.

With the increase of tourism, St. Paul invested in world class accommodations in town. The Western Front Hotel is a boutique, 30 room hotel that launched in 2016 with the help of a $500,000 grant from ARC. Both Spearhead Trails and the Western Front have been a catalyst for private investment, such as a new brewery downtown and a private rafting business on the Clinch River.

Virginia will host the annual ARC conference at the Western Front Hotel in Saint Paul October 4-5. The conference will be a chance for ARC governors and staff to develop a strategy to guide the agency.

This is just one example of the strength of ARC and the region. Virginia, ARC and regional collaboration have brought transformational investments in broadband, infrastructure, substance abuse response efforts, child care, workforce, cultural heritage ä such as the world-renowned Crooked Road ä Virginiaás Music Heritage Trail ä and so much more.

I am optimistic about the future of Appalachia. I see a region with unlimited potential and unmatched natural beauty, brimming with decent, resilient people who never shy away from extending a helping hand. Solving challenges Appalachia faces will take more than funding. It will take hard work and the same ingenuity that has fueled the rebound of St. Paul and communities like it. And it will take collaboration and cooperation. I am excited to hear from Appalachiaás governors in coming months and continue our work to bettering Appalachia.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is a physician and U.S. Army veteran.

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