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Inside Information: May–August 1997 Issue

ARC Launches $15 Million Initiative in Entrepreneurship

In a move to create jobs and bolster local economies, ARC has launched a three-year, $15 million initiative aimed at creating and growing local businesses in Appalachia.

The venture—the largest ARC initiative in two decades—was announced by ARC Federal Co-Chairman Jesse L. White Jr. at a June 5 press conference in Washington.

"With this initiative, ARC is providing new muscle to local economies. The governors throughout the Region have joined with me in targeting the resources and talents of the ARC on business development at the local level so that we can create local jobs and strengthen local economies," White said.

Said ARC States' Co-Chairman Kirk Fordice, governor of Mississippi, "This approach takes advantage of the entrepreneurial skills of our citizenry, creates more stable jobs, and keeps wealth in the local communities. The initiative will provide resources to enable us to reap the benefits of encouraging homegrown businesses."

The entrepreneurship initiative stems from the strategic plan the Commission put into place last year to make ARC more responsive to the changing needs of Appalachia. The plan spells out a series of goals for the Region, including the creation of dynamic and self-sustaining local economies.

"Homegrown businesses not only create jobs, but they also create real wealth, which stays put in the local economy. Homegrown companies also help communities gain greater control of their own economic destiny, unlike the branch plant economies in which the decisions are made from outside," White said.

To demonstrate the range of enterprises envisioned in the initiative, several successful Appalachian entrepreneurs were invited to participate in the announcement of the program at ARC's Washington headquarters. They included Marilyn Milne, owner of a medical transcription service in Huntington, West Virginia; Carolyn Stradley, from the mountains of north Georgia, founder of a paving company in the Atlanta area; Stephanie Johnson, a 16-year-old student involved in entrepreneurial education at Johnson County Vocational School in Tennessee; and Jeff Dukes, a former entrepreneur and now statewide business adviser with the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development.

In an effort to promote entrepreneurship in the Region, the ARC initiative will focus on three broad goals: generating awareness and interest in entrepreneurial activities; encouraging efforts to coordinate state- and regional-level programs that support entrepreneurship; and developing a support system to help potential entrepreneurs in five key areas: accessing financing for business start-ups and expansions, developing sound business plans and operating practices, finding commercial uses for new technologies, educating and training new entrepreneurs, and encouraging networking between professional service providers to better link entrepreneurs to various business, educational, and training services.

Proposals for funding will be channeled through the regular ARC application process. In addition to using the $15 million set aside for the initiative, the 13 Appalachian states can support the entrepreneurship enterprise with regular ARC state allocations.

Virginia Schools Leap into Cyberspace with the Help of ARC and Projectneat

With the click of a switch, Virginia Governor George Allen brought the vast resources of the Internet to Virginia High School in Bristol on May 21, and set the stage for 67 other elementary and secondary schools in Appalachian Virginia to be plugged into the Internet by this fall.

Governor Allen's action—which consisted of snapping a computer-keyboard-type device into a telephone outlet—kicked off Virginia's participation in a partnership between ARC and the California-based nonprofit organization Projectneat to link 1,250 Appalachian schools to the Internet this year. The partnership between ARC and Projectneat was announced at the ARC Governors' Quorum Meeting in Washington earlier this year.

"This generous partnership will bring cutting-edge technology directly to classrooms throughout western and southwestern Virginia by providing Internet access and data-sharing capabilities to our schools," Governor Allen said in Bristol. "Increasing access to learning opportunities is crucial for our young people to lead self-sufficient, productive, and fulfilling lives, now and in the future."

Projectneat is a nationwide undertaking, conceived by California entrepreneur Kamran Elahian, to donate equipment to schools that provides Internet access through a television rather than through a computer. In partnership with Projectneat, ARC will fund training for teachers in the use of the systems and any special wiring that may be needed to connect schools throughout Appalachia to the Internet.

Representatives Boucher, McDade Honored at LDD Conference

Appalachian Congressmen Rick Boucher of Virginia's Ninth Congressional District and Joseph M. McDade of Pennsylvania's Tenth Congressional District received outstanding service awards from the Development District Association of Appalachia (DDAA) for their long-standing commitment to the people of Appalachia and congressional record of advocacy for the Region. The awards were announced at the DDAA's annual conference, held in March at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia.

Representative Boucher, who was on hand to receive a plaque at the conference banquet March 16, was honored for his support of ARC, his pioneering efforts to deregulate and extend the reach of the telecommunications industry into his largely rural district, and his vigorous backing of infrastructure, business, and tourism initiatives for Virginia. McDade, who was unable to attend the ceremony, was cited for his leadership and commitment to the goals of ARC, as well as his determined and tireless efforts to rally support for ARC in Congress.

ARC Federal Co-Chairman Jesse L. White Jr. was the keynote speaker at the banquet. The three-day conference, which attracted approximately 350 representatives from Appalachia's 69 local development districts, was cosponsored by ARC and included the DDAA's annual business meeting and a series of workshops.

Especially moving event of the conference was the luncheon held on March 17, at which DDAA president Don Rychnowski presented the association's first John Whisman Vision Award to Whisman's widow, Anne. The award, which is to be given annually, was established to memorialize John Whisman, the east Kentucky native who devoted much of his life to improving the economic condition of Appalachia and who is recognized as one of the prime architects of the Commission.

Moving On; Moving In

With this issue, Appalachia and ARC bid a regretful goodby to one of the Commission's most dedicated and long-serving staff members. Ann Anderson, who handled public affairs at the Commission's Washington headquarters for nearly 20 years, has moved from the area. The associate editor of Appalachia, Anderson was a deputy press secretary in the Carter White House prior to joining ARC in 1978. She began her career as a reporter with the Nashville Tennessean, and in the 1960s served as head of the Peace Corps' office of public information.

"Ann was passionate in her work for the people of Appalachia and in her efforts to advance the mission of ARC," said Executive Director Thomas M. Hunter. "She knew and cared about the Region and its people. For two decades, she has been spreading the good news—and sometimes softening the blows of bad news—about Appalachia. The ARC family will miss her."

Joining ARC as public affairs officer is Christina Evans, former press secretary to U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia. As a senior adviser to Byrd, Evans worked on a number of issues related to ARC initiatives. A native of Ohio, she began her career as a journalist with the Orlando Sentinel in Florida, and has more than a decade of experience in the field of communications and public relations.

Legislative Update

House, Senate Okay $160 Million for ARC

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have passed appropriations bills providing $160 million in funding for ARC highways, area development programs, and administrative costs for the coming fiscal year. The two versions of the FY 1998 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill now go to a joint House-Senate conference committee to resolve any differences before final passage.

The Senate unanimously approved its bill on July 16. Action on the House bill followed on July 25, when it was passed by a vote of 418 to 7. An amendment to the House bill to strip $90 million in highway funding from ARC, offered by Representative Scott Klug of Wisconsin, was defeated by a vote of 328 to 97.

In defense of ARC, Representative Joseph McDade of Pennsylvania told his colleagues, "This program, in my view, is one of the best intergovernmental programs that exist in the nation. Local and state government involvement is something we talk about all the time. Here is a program where it actually works."

Noting that the interstate highway system is 99 percent complete while the Appalachian corridor system lags behind at 78 percent completion, Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky said, "Even though the Appalachian system is only three-fourths complete, its impacts are already considerable. Industries and businesses have grown along the highways that we have built in this poor part of our country. This growth should be allowed to continue."

Added Representative Bob Wise of West Virginia, "Appalachian Regional Commission studies clearly document that every county with ARC highways has job growth three to four times as high as those Appalachian and rural counties without."

Also pending before Congress is an administration proposal to allocate $200 million from the Highway Trust Fund to the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS). The proposal is contained in the National Economic Crossroads Transportation Efficiency Act, known as "NEXTEA."

In a related development, the Senate approved the 1998 Transportation Appropriations Bill, which includes an extra $300 million in federal highway money to speed the completion of the ADHS. The House version of the transportation bill, however, does not contain the funding; the issue will be resolved in conference.

White, Underwood Testify before House Subcommittee

ARC Federal Co-Chairman Jesse L. White Jr. and West Virginia Governor Cecil Underwood testified before Congress July 10, urging the House Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Economic Development to enact legislation formally reauthorizing ARC. The Clinton administration has proposed a five-year reauthorization.

Underwood, who was first elected governor of West Virginia 40 years ago and was elected a second time last year, gave the panel an eyewitness account of Appalachia before and after the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

"In 1956, I was the youngest person ever elected governor of West Virginia. That was nine years before the Appalachian Regional Commission was created," Underwood said. "Conditions in the Region were stark. Flooding in the deep and narrow hollows of the Region was a constant menace. Poverty and the boom-bust cycle of the economy were the norms. No matter how good the times might be at a particular moment, people lived in perpetual dread of the wrenching poverty that was always just a tomorrow away."

The efforts of the Appalachian Regional Commission, Underwood said, have transformed the people and the Region. "Today, Appalachia, rather than being a region of despair, is a dynamic region of contrasts, populated by people with hopes and dreams. The Appalachian Regional Commission has been our lifeline, our source of hope, our bootstrap so that we could help ourselves to become a region of opportunity."

Echoing Underwood's statement, White told the committee, "ARC must continue its commitment to build Appalachia's basic infrastructure, target resources to the areas of greatest need, and deploy its programs to help Appalachian communities develop self-sustaining economies that can compete in the international marketplace of the twenty-first century."

White also underscored the importance of completing the 3,025-mile Appalachian Development Highway System.

"The timely completion of the ADHS is an absolutely essential step in the Region's economic development," he said. "A modern system of highways is a critical response to the Region's isolation."

White also noted the importance of ARC's current efforts to target assistance to areas of greatest need and to encourage the creation of small, homegrown businesses through programs such as the three-year, $15 million entrepreneurship initiative.

During a second session of hearings, representatives from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) and the Coalition for Economic Development, a group of 11 organizations including the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC), voiced their support for reauthorization of ARC.