4 Surprising Ways Appalachians are Changing Their Economy


Much of Appalachia’s economy has rested on the boom and bust cycles of industries like coal and manufacturing for decades. It’s true that these industries have long put bread on the Appalachian table, but as those industries have faded in recent decades, jobs have grown scarce. 

So are there industries that might one day provide more financial stability to the region? This week on Inside Appalachia, we learn more about some unexpected and unique ways Appalachians are thinking outside the box to earn money, like growing industrial hemp, installing solar panels and even growing tea.

We also take a look inside the black walnut industry and meet some people who earn extra cash by helping harvest this plentiful Appalachian food.

And as we head into the season of holiday cooking, we chat with a nutritionist and two chefs about how to cook good food for the holidays, without forking over half your paycheck.

The Struggle to Stay

And we’ll hear the conclusion to Derek Akal’s story, in the final installment of our Struggle to Stay series. Derek has big dreams for his home of Harlan County, Kentucky.

But does Derek find a way to make his dreams a reality in Kentucky? We’ll find out in this episode of Inside Appalachia. 


Credit courtesy Derek Akal
Derek Akal was a highschool football star and received scholarships to play at college. But a sports injury caused him to re-evaulate his plans to leave Kentucky and finish his degree.

Host Jessica Lilly closes the show with this personal message:

It seems kind of fitting that we end the series with a show about entrepreneurship and jobs. Each of the people we’ve followed in the Struggle to Stay series is looking for a way to make money and to survive. Since this series began, we’ve received a number of messages from listeners who say they struggle in similar ways.  

We’ve heard why some people say they want to remain around family, friends and loved ones.

But sometimes making money means leaving. Sometimes, as we’ve heard in this series, people determine that the value of relationships is greater than earning a big income. 

How about you? Do you struggle to stay in Appalachia? If you’ve left, have you struggled to return home? 

Send us a message at

You can listen to all of the stories from the Struggle to Stay series below:

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from The Ohio Valley Resource, which is made possible with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and West Virginia Public Broadcasting, PRI’s the World and their 50 states series, Appalachia Health News, GroundTruth’s “Crossing the Divide” Project, and 100 Days in Appalachia.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Roxy Todd and Jessica Lilly. Catherine Moore edited our show this week. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Claire Hemme helped with our digital correspondence. You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia

Traditonal fiddle music in this episode was provided by the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia. Other music is by Marisa Anderson, Dinosaur Burps, and Heroes are Gang Leaders.