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Partnership helps tap Appalachia’s potential

The hit country song “Mountain Music” by the band Alabama may recount fond memories of many Alabamians growing up in a rural mountainous area where life is simple and family bonds are strong.

“Oh, play me some mountain music; Like grandma and grandpa used to play.”

While a similar image may be the first thing that comes to mind when most of America thinks of the Appalachian region, we who live in states that are part of the region think not only of its rich cultural heritage and deep sense of family roots, but also of its tremendous potential.

A key partnership in helping the region reach that potential is the Appalachian Regional Commission. Formed in 1965, the ARC is a federal-state-local partnership to enhance economic development and improve the quality of life in 13 states, including 37 counties in Alabama.

The ARC has been a strong partner to my state, Alabama. In 2020 alone, the ARC invested $6.8 million to support 35 projects in Alabama communities. Multiplying the projects across the other 12 states in the region gives an idea of the partnership’s total yearly impact.

Some of my key priorities as Alabama’s governor are infrastructure, education, health care and job creation. A key item to expanding opportunities in those areas, especially in rural Alabama, is high-speed internet. Access to broadband service today is quickly becoming much like access to electricity was in Appalachia during the early- to mid-20th century. It is growing more important for education, economic development, health care and many other areas.

As we partner and collaborate in the public and private sectors to expand broadband to previously unserved areas, the ARC has been a valuable partner. Recently, ARC funds of $200,000 to Central Alabama Electric Cooperative helped expand broadband access to almost 70 homes in Coosa County, a rural county in east-central Alabama.

While the overall number of households might not be huge, access to broadband will bring a world of possibilities to these residents including improved health care, access to distance learning and business opportunities while laying the foundation for further expansion to other households and businesses.

There is perhaps nothing more life-changing than gaining the training needed not just for a job but to start a productive career.

The ARC also helps its member states offer training to prepare residents for productive careers in growing industries.

An area of growing opportunity in Alabama’s Appalachian region is aerospace and aviation with the booming Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal areas nearby.

Snead State Community College, in northeast Alabama, is using an ARC grant of $111,395 to offer a training program to help north Alabama residents prepare for aviation jobs. The grant helped Snead State purchase the updated technology and equipment needed to offer the training needed for certification as Federal Aviation Administration Aviation Technician at the Aviation College in the city of Albertville. This certification is a valuable credential that can lead to jobs with government and military agencies, contractors and airlines. With support of the ARC grant, Snead State is providing the program on modern equipment that is the

industry standard and will serve students well as they receive the training for careers in the growing industry.

As in the song “Mountain Music,” the Appalachian region will always stir fond memories of a simple, rural life. The ARC is helping to build on that framework as the region continues to grow into its full, modern potential. As all Appalachian states work toward a bright future filled with opportunity for our residents, the ARC will continue to be a valuable partner to each of the 13 states in its footprint.

Republican Kay Ivey was sworn in as governor of Alabama in 2017, having been raised in the state. She has been a teacher and bank officer, as well as state treasurer and lieutenant governor. This column by Ivey is one of a weekly series of pieces provided by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

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