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The New Appalachia: Capacity and Collaboration

by Fred D. Baldwin

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New Appalachia Conference Program cover

A sweeping perspective on Appalachia's past and present challenges from Kentucky Governor Paul E. Patton and a tribute to the Region's response to those challenges from internationally acclaimed author Stephen R. Covey highlighted a conference on "The New Appalachia," convened in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, November 7–8, 2001, by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

The conference opened with nearly 600 registered attendees, and, at the morning session on November 8, about 250 college students from around the Region joined conference participants to hear Covey's speech. ARC Federal Co-Chairman Jesse L. White Jr., following Governor Patton's welcoming remarks, commented that the economic progress of the "new Appalachia" had been made possible by a unique combination of pioneering individualism and recognition of the need for collaborative efforts. "Many things have changed," White said, "but the heart of this people has never changed. They're still pioneering."

Patton, ARC's 2001 states' co-chairman, described four decades of regional progress as illustrations of the formal themes of the conference, "capacity and collaboration." Covey, the conference's keynote speaker, described ARC and its collaborative strategies as "a mentoring model for similar efforts throughout our society."

The morning session also included two case studies on excellence in rural communities and organizations. Presenters were John A. Johnson, president of Alabama Southern Community College, and Ewell Balltrip, executive director of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission.

The afternoon program consisted of concurrent sessions on economic drivers in the Region's "old" and "new" economies, strategies for human development, and strategies for building competitive communities. Presenters included more than a dozen leaders in economic and community development from around the Region. (See Concurrent Sessions: Best Practices)

Building Capacity to Compete

Governor Patton's remarks summarized the history of Appalachia since World War II as a story of rebuilding the Region's capacity to compete on equal terms with the rest of the nation. He characterized the strategy for rebuilding as an example of collaboration, both within the Region and with outside partners.

Patton reminded the audience that for roughly 100 years after the Civil War, a time of economic growth for most of the nation, the Appalachian Region failed to develop a sustainable economic base. A subsistence economy based on agriculture was followed by boom-and-bust cycles of resource extraction—first timber, then coal. What could have been investment capital flowed out of the Region."

After World War II," Patton concluded, "the timber was exhausted, and the coal mines were mechanized. We had failed to develop our physical infrastructure, and we had failed to develop our people through education. Poverty rates were high, and income levels were often little more than half of national averages.

"ARC," he continued, "was created with a charge to become a partner with state and local communities. It was never the intention of ARC to solve the problems of Appalachia by itself, but to be a partner. We in Kentucky have taken that partnership very seriously."

Patton noted progress toward overcoming Appalachia's physical isolation through the development of a modern highway system. Today, he said, all counties in the Region are within a day's drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population. A principal remaining challenge continues to be education, which the governor called "the foundation of any future success."

"This is a place," he said, "where any company can grow and prosper . . . with people who understand the virtue of loyalty. But to accomplish our goals, we must think regionally. When we work cooperatively, the Region advances. When we think parochially, the Region stagnates and declines. We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

"There are too many people who still view this Region as one where people don't wear shoes and aren't educated. That's not the way we are today. This is a new Appalachia. There are residents here in eastern Kentucky who are solving computer problems for people around the world. With telecommunications we can reach, and be reached by, anyplace on the globe."We cannot be all that we can be as a region," Patton concluded, "until our citizens are all that they can be.

We cannot afford to be left behind by the information superhighway as we once were by the interstate highways. In order to succeed in the future, Appalachia must begin doing the mental work of the world.

"In his remarks, Patton announced a $1 million commitment from the state's coal severance funds to the Appalachian Development Alliance, a coalition of eight economic development organizations making loans for housing, business growth, and other economic development projects throughout eastern Kentucky. He also announced his intent to recommend to the Kentucky General Assembly a $2 million appropriation for tourism promotion in Kentucky's Appalachian counties and western coal counties.

Cultivating Interdependence

Covey, featured speaker at the conference's opening session, is best known for his books The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change and Principle-Centered Leadership. Over 12 million copies of The 7 Habits have been sold, and the book has been translated into 32 languages. Covey is co-founder of the world's largest management and leadership development organization, the FranklinCovey Company.

Covey's remarks focused on the "collaboration" aspect of the conference theme. He described the mission and strategies of ARC and its partners as examples of systematically cultivated interdependence—the highest level in his hierarchy of personal and institutional stages of development. Moving from dependence to independence represents progress, he said, but independence is neither a realistic nor a fulfilling goal."

It takes far more maturity to be interdependent than to be independent," Covey said. "I particularly appreciate this organization. What an awareness of interdependence between private enterprise, government, and civil society! It can be a mentoring model for similar efforts throughout our society."

Covey explained that his use of the term "civil society" followed that of an early-twentieth-century English jurist, who described three domains of human action: law, freedom, and civil society. Civil society refers to communitarian values that buffer the extremes of law, where everyone must obey the same rules, or individual freedom, where no one need obey any rules. Examples of this principle in action include the many voluntary community development groups at work across Appalachia.

A more abstract example of the principle is the "habit" that Covey summarizes as "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." He described this principle, which can neither be enforced in law nor neglected by anyone who wishes to succeed, as fundamental to community development. "We are servant-leaders," Covey said. "It's not about 'me.' It's about 'we.' "

Covey identified four roles of leadership: modeling, path finding, aligning (bringing goals, resources, and processes into alignment), and empowering. Each of these requires a commitment to interdependence and recognition that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts.

"Unless people participate and are emotionally connected," he said. "You won't get change to structures and systems. You have to have a vision, a mechanism to make that vision happen . . . and then get out of people's way. Synergy is not compromise. Compromise is 'One plus one equals one-and-a-half.' Synergy is 'One plus one equals three . . . or sometimes ten.' "

Covey, an energetic speaker, engaged his audience directly with participatory demonstrations and responses to questions. For example, responding to a question on "fossilization" as an obstacle to change, Covey warned that change cannot be avoided. He ran through a list of "seismic" social and economic shifts already under way. They included globalization, universal connectivity, an exponential increase in competition, and increased reliance on knowledge workers.

"Every one of us here is going to have to go back to school and reinvent ourselves," he said. "If you're going for world-class, you'll have to be prepared for global competition, not just local competition. And even if you think you're only in local competition, you'll be affected by global competition eventually.

"Most people," he continued, "are waiting for other people to change. You may be thinking, 'This is good stuff, but the people who need it aren't here.' It doesn't take two people to think win-win. It only takes one. You are 100 percent responsible to maintain 'we.' "

Covey concluded by re-emphasizing that the partnerships encouraged by ARC show a sophisticated understanding of the challenges of contemporary leadership. "Your goal of economic development," he said, "deals with the basics of life. You emphasize developing voluntary relationships because you're all in the same boat and you know it. Learning—you emphasize education. And when you bring government and private enterprise and civil society together, you unleash a potential unlike any in the world."

Case Studies

The case study presenters emphasized similar themes. John A. Johnson, president of Alabama Southern Community College, described his school's contractual training arrangements with more than 100 businesses and industries. Progress, Johnson said, depends on trust. Forced by economics to improve labor productivity, Alabama Southern maintained staff loyalty and morale through, among other things, a strong commitment to staff development.

Johnson also noted that Alabama Southern uses consultants from Covey's organization, aiming for "best-ever" results year after year. "If you don't shoot for the highest standard,' he said, "you won't inspire people to make the emotional commitment to make a change."

A similar message came from Ewell Balltrip, executive director of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission. The commission, Balltrip explained, addresses several issues: how to engage residents of distressed counties in the regional vision; how to encourage citizens and leaders to respond proactively to problems and design their own development strategies; how to maximize the benefits of financial, institutional, and human resources in Appalachia; and how to encourage strategic thinking, not just project-oriented thinking.

"Strategic action," he said, "focuses on the mountaintop, not the steps along the trail. The steps are important because you can't get there unless you take them. But you don't start a hike up a mountain just to take steps."

The conference closed with a special presentation on the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky, a hands-on educational experience in math and science for Kentucky middle school students. The center works with teachers to provide eight weeks of instruction, culminating in a trip to the center for a simulated space flight. Presenters included Tom Cravens, the center's director; G. Edward Hughes, then president of Hazard Community College; and a number of students who had completed the center's program.

Fred D. Baldwin is a freelance writer based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Track 1: Economic Drivers in the "Old" and "New" Economies

Creating Jobs by Renewing Goods
Waste not, want not—that's the philosophy behind ReUse Industries in Albany, Ohio, a community-owned nonprofit that repairs, refurbishes, and sells reusable goods ranging from donated computers to antiques. Results: environmental benefits, bargains for small-business purchasers, and new job-creating enterprises (e.g., a furniture repair shop and an appliance service business).

ReUse Industries
Coleen Dietsch, Executive Director
Albany, Ohio

Highlighting Natural Resources and Beauty as a Revitalization Strategy
Tourism requires its own kind of infrastructure. The Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, provides training, networking, and other support for entrepreneurs hoping to provide food, lodging, and services (like outfitting) to attract people who appreciate natural beauty. Among its partners: the Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Nature Conservancy.

Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority
Geneva O'Quinn, Director
Big Stone Gap, Virginia

Increased Water System Efficiency through Collaboration
The Northeast Mississippi Regional Water Supply District can provide up to 18 million gallons of water daily, enough to meet the needs of existing customers and support new industries. Creating it required the collaborative efforts of governments at all levels, involving at least five cities, four rural water associations, and four industrial parks. One payoff: an estimated 4,000 new jobs for northeastern Mississippi in the next several years.

Three Rivers Planning and Development District
Vernon R. "Randy" Kelley III, Executive Director
Pontotoc, Mississippi

Forming an Alliance to Increase Business Development Resources
Banks and venture capitalists regularly pool resources to finance deals no one of them could afford and to spread their risks as lenders. Why can't nonprofit lenders do that? They can, eight non-traditional lenders in Appalachian Kentucky decided. Now the private nonprofit Appalachian Development Alliance can provide capital to more promising businesses that could not otherwise qualify for traditional bank loans.

Appalachian Development Alliance
Gregory Jones, President
London, Kentucky

Track 2: Thriving People

Using Education and the Workforce to Attract New Businesses
A team of leaders from businesses, schools, and other community organizations has reached across state lines in northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia to create Education 2010. They're building support for education and sharing best practices, with the goal of attracting investment by making schools "internationally competitive."

Education 2010 Committee
Ellen Myatt, Publisher
Business Journal of Tri-Cities TN/VA
Blountville, Tennessee

Karen Rowell, Director of Operations Support Services
Eastman Chemical Company
Kingsport, Tennessee

Strengthening Communities One Step and One Leader at a Time
Leaders in Hale County, Alabama, combine a flair for acronyms with a long-term vision of their area's future. The Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization (HERO) provides educational services that range from pre-kindergarten classes to entrepreneurship training. One of its programs aims high: activities to encourage young people to attend college and return to become a new generation of leaders. Watch for their return: the Hale BOPP ("Builders of Positive Partnerships") Comets.

Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization
William Ryan, Chairman of the Board;
Judge of the District Court of Hale County, Alabama

Julia Williams, School Support Specialist
HERO Family Resource Center
Greensboro, Alabama

Partnerships and Staff Development Increase Government Capacity
Neither problems nor opportunities stop at municipal lines. In the Appalachian counties of New York State, six municipalities strengthened their economic development efforts through technical training for local officials, intergovernmental partnerships, and leadership seminars. Putting it all together was the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board, in Painted Post, which has a well-stocked training toolkit for helping small and medium-sized communities cope with staffing and resource issues.

Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board
Thomas D. McGarry, Community Development Specialist
Painted Post, New York

Electronic System Improves Health Care

Emergency medical service providers need to know a lot about their patients—chronic illnesses, medications being taken, prior admissions—and they need to know it fast. In northwestern North Carolina, a new telehealth database will give providers speedy, secure access to medical records across a five-county area. The lead agency, the Northwest Piedmont Council of Governments, expects the system to save money, time, and lives.

Northwest Piedmont Council of Governments
Gary Steeley, Director of Information Services
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Track 3: Building Competitive Communities

Solving the Internet Access Problem
To get online in Chattooga County, Georgia, call "ChattoogaNet." The county's public school system has become an Internet service provider (ISP). Students at the high school, located in Summerville, learn how to manage all aspects of an ISP's operation. That means operating and troubleshooting equipment, developing Web pages, and dealing with customers.

Chattooga County Schools
Rick Clifton, Technology Director
Summerville, Georgia

Chattooga County High School
Jimmy Dean, Vocational Director
Summerville, Georgia

Information Tools for Community Development
In economic development, quick and easy access to data can be hard to come by. That's where InfoMentum comes in. A partnership of county governments, public utilities, and the Appalachian Council of Governments (ACOG) in Greenville, South Carolina, InfoMentum provides access to maps, demographic and economic statistics, and data on things like available industrial buildings and where the water lines run. ACOG also provides training and technical support in how to collect and use data in planning and marketing.

Appalachian Council of Governments
Kerry Leonard, Economic Information Analyst
Greenville, South Carolina

Using Universities' Resources to Help Businesses
Need a high-tech consultant? Access to state-of-the-art equipment? The Pennsylvania Alliance of Higher Education for Research and Technology helps business and industry locate technical information, professional expertise, and technology facilities at 22 northeastern Pennsylvania colleges and universities. Partners include the participating schools and a long list of other technical assistance heavyweights, including the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania and the conference presenter organization, the Northeastern Pennsylvania Alliance.

Northeastern Pennsylvania Alliance
Penny S. Cannella, Regional Coordinator
Pittston, Pennsylvania

Managing Main Street Programs

In western Maryland, downtown Cumberland (Allegany County) and Oakland (Garrett County) are looking better all the time. The towns have hired Main Street managers to coordinate their downtown redevelopment programs, preventing problems like volunteer burnout and haphazard efforts (such as holding competing events on the same date). These staffers are advocates for their communities and sources of information for merchants, event planners, and all with ideas for making the downtowns more exciting places to visit, work, shop, and live. (See The Main Street Approach to Revitalizing Communities.)

Downtown Development Commission
of Cumberland, Maryland
Ed Mullaney, Downtown Manager
Cumberland, Maryland