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Southeastern Kentucky Region is Designated as “Promise Zone” for Federal Revitalization Investment

January 2014


On January 9, 2014, President Barack Obama announced the first five "Promise Zones" designated as part of the administration's Promise Zones Initiative to revitalize high-poverty communities across the country. The designated communities include an 8-county region of southeastern Kentucky; San Antonio; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone comprises the eight Appalachian counties of Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry, and Whitley, which have an average poverty rate of more than 30 percent.

Through the Promise Zones Initiative, which was outlined in the president's 2013 State of the Union address, the federal government will partner with and invest in the selected communities to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, and improve public safety. As part of the competitive application process for the Promise Zones designation, communities outlined how the designation would accelerate and strengthen efforts at comprehensive community revitalization, proposing a plan for how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that expand opportunity. In exchange, they will receive technical assistance, federal staff support, and enhanced access to resources and expertise needed to achieve their goals.

The southeastern Kentucky application, prepared by the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, includes the following key strategies:

  • Implementing a sustainable economic effort across eight counties in the Kentucky Highlands region, focused on diversifying southeastern Kentucky's economy to make it more resilient.
  • Creating jobs and growing small businesses by leveraging $1.3 million in private-sector funds in a revolving loan fund targeted within the Promise Zone.
  • Creating leadership and entrepreneur training for youth and industry-specific retraining opportunities for local skilled workforce through the University of Kentucky Economic Development Initiative, the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, and the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation.
  • In order to ensure all youth have access to a high-quality education, Berea College will run evidence-based college- and career-readiness programs for high school students in the Promise Zone, while Eastern Kentucky University will expand technical education programs.

The Obama administration will designate an additional 15 Promise Zones over the next three years, for a total of 20 across the country.

More information on the Promise Zones Initiative is available on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Web site at