Eric Douglas Published

Ohio Valley Mayors Ask For New ‘Marshall Plan’


Mayors from eight cities in the Ohio Valley, including Pittsburgh, Morgantown, Huntington and Louisville, have joined forces to call for a new effort to revitalize the region.

In an essay in the Opinion section of the Washington Post, the group called for a 21st Century version of the World War II-era Marshall Plan, the U.S. aid program that helped rebuild Europe after the war.

Now the mayors want to see that type of investment in the Ohio Valley. They are requesting the equivalent of $60 billion a year, over 10 years, in private and public investment, and tax breaks.

Mayor Steve Williams, from Huntington, West Virginia, was one of the signers of the Washington Post essay. He spoke with Eric Douglas to discuss the group’s ideas.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Douglas: The analogy that’s used in the essay is the Marshall Plan, the post-World War II reconstruction plan for Europe. Why do you feel that’s an appropriate analogy to what we’re facing in, in the Ohio Valley?


Courtesy photo
Steve Williams, mayor of Huntington, West Virginia.

Williams: I believe, particularly in the Ohio River Valley, and Appalachia, we are the forgotten part of the country. Everybody seems to talk about the Northeast and the South and the Midwest, and the West. But when you look at the Ohio River Valley, the mountainous area that we’re in, including the Great Lakes area, there are a lot of folks that come in wanting us to help them but when we absolutely need the help, all of the sudden we’re forgotten. And that’s why I believe that we’re the forgotten America.

Douglas: I see the point made that Appalachia powered the Industrial Revolution, powered the great build up of the nation.

Williams: None of us here will ever allow ourselves to be seen as a victim. Ever. That’s within our culture. You look at what has happened here. There are some things that we have within our DNA that we need to take full advantage of. And we believe that we need to have a federal partner in order to be able to accomplish these things.

Douglas: You mentioned the Appalachian Regional Regional Commission. Are you thinking this would be a program under the ARC?

Williams: It could be part of the ARC. None of us are coming in saying that we have to build a new federal agency. I believe that the ARC would be perfectly capable of doing this.

Douglas: You mentioned that this is not a Green New Deal. That’s not the direction you’re heading. But you made several points in the essay that you are looking for greener jobs.

Williams: It just makes sense. Much like when the automobile was coming into the Detroit area. What do you think happened to those horse and buggy manufacturers? Did they continue doing that? Were they a buggy manufacturer? Or were they a transportation company?

Are we oil and gas? Are we coal? Or are we energy? We’re starting to see these companies focusing on energy. And in that regard, we’re saying green energy. Let’s make sure that we’re doing things where the investments are being made.

Douglas: The estimate for this program is $60 billion a year over the next 10 years. So $600 billion in federal block grants, tax credits. It’s not just cash, obviously.

Williams: The way that I look at it, that’s a small price to pay. A $600 billion investment will turn into a trillion dollars — trillions of dollars. I’m not looking at something that turns over five times, where then all sudden it is $3 trillion. I’m looking at thousands of times.

My background is finance. I used to be a stockbroker. I was an investment banker. If somebody is coming to me saying, “You place an investment here and you’d be able to get a tenfold return.” But the fact of the matter is, you recognize what the return on investment truly could be, we can’t afford not to do this.