Appalachia and her people have a ton of potential. We have gorgeous landscapes, abundant natural resources, and talented and hard-working artists, artisans, craftspeople, and skilled tradespersons.
We have a labor force second to none. We have a rich and vibrant cultural heritage. We’ve got all the essential pieces we need to build an economy to match.
So, why don’t we have a slew of good paying jobs to go with it all?
After a weekend spent listening to academics go on about what rural newspapers need to do to remain profitable and relevant – often without any real knowledge of what conditions those communities are dealing with – I’m not really any closer to knowing what the answer to that question is. Or how to make it a reality.
But I’m convinced of what the answer isn’t.
And the answer isn’t counting on outsiders to bring in jobs, or to create opportunities that let us showcase what we have to offer to the world.
No, if it’s going to be done, we are going to have to do the work ourselves. We’re going to have to be invested in it. Not just financially, but in the impact it’s going to have on our communities – economically, environmentally, and socially.
We can see the fruits of these types of local and regional collaborations and support on this issue all around us, if we care to look.
If you look at the good work Willis Johnson and the Kiwanis Club are doing, they aren’t doing that through the benevolence of outside funding. They are doing that through one rural Appalachian community club coordinating with club members from other rural communities. And as a result they’re raising all of our communities up.
We can also look at the work Max Hammond and Jim Plummer are doing to bring the Warrior’s Path project through Carter County.
Sure, that project is part of the National Parks System – a large federal system, and one that we can reasonably expect to complete the project once it starts. But we became a part of this project through the work of locals who actively championed for it.
Not because we sat around hoping someone from the National Park Service would notice how lovely our community is.
Not because we sat around and waited for foreign investors to notice the quality of life we offer and build another steel or aluminum mill in our backyard.
Not because someone from outside decided they can profit off our natural resources.
These things are happening because of local folks.
Tonya Judd and the locally owned A Center 4 Change continues to create new facilities, and new jobs, in our Carter County communities.
Matthew Parsons, our library director, is determined to grow our library to something that the community can be proud of. He wants to help make it a place where folks can continue their education, find technical and employment support, and pick up a good book to read too. A place that folks who want to relocate to Carter County find what they are looking for in a library.
Jerry Yates, with the carpenters’ and millwrights’ union is working to give our communities fair tax and labor laws and our workers increased job opportunities.
They’re all working very hard.
And they aren’t alone. All across the county small business owners and artisans and our two chambers of commerce are doing their best to encourage growth and prosperity.
These aren’t huge companies creating a massive number of jobs.
We probably won’t ever get back to that level of local employment, with a central industry like a brick yard or steel mill serving as an anchor.
It might not even be safe to do that – we’ve already seen the dangers inherent in putting all our eggs in one economic basket.
But I believe we can carve out a sustainable future, for our region and the children who choose to stay here at home, or to come back. I believe it’s possible. But only if we do it ourselves. Only if we have that skin in the game.
Otherwise, we’re just waiting on another rug to be pulled out from under our feet some day