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The Appalachian Regional Commission is launching a new program that encourages states to apply for grants together to bolster the region’s economy.
It’s called ARISE: Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies.
It comes with $73 million from President Joe Biden’s signature Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. And it’s intended for states to work with each other instead of going it alone.
Gayle Manchin, the federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, said when she first started the job, she noticed that the 13 states in the region were writing grant proposals individually.
In an interview, Manchin said the region has a population of 25 million. If Appalachia were a state, she said, it would be the third largest in the country behind California and Texas.
“So if you think about it that way, about what an impact we could have if we were truly united as an Appalachian region, there’s a lot we could accomplish,” Manchin said. “There’s power in that number.”
For example, six states – Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia – have already started a regional partnership for recreational equipment manufacturing. Think kayaks or mountain bikes.
Southeastern Ohio, north-central West Virginia and western Pennsylvania could form an energy partnership, Manchin said. Or, other states could work together to improve broadband access.
“At the end of the day, what we’d like to accomplish is we don’t want to see communities merely survive,” she said. “We want to bring our region into where it is actually competitive. With not only the states around it, outside the Appalachian region, but globally.”
The effort could get an additional boost from the Inflation Reduction Act, an energy, climate and health care package Biden just signed. It, too, has provisions that could benefit economically distressed communities in Appalachia.
With that level of support from the White House, Manchin added, the region needs to seize an opportunity that may not come again.