WASHINGTON, March 4, 2014—The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has awarded a $250,000 grant to the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC) to begin implementing its "Promise Zones" revitalization project for eight southeastern Kentucky counties.
KHIC was selected by the Obama administration in January 2014 as one of the first five winners in the country in a competitive application process to create a strategic plan for a proposed "Promise Zone" for federal revitalization investment. Southeastern Kentucky has been named one of those zones as a result of the approval of the KHIC application.
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 southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, and improve public safety.
The ARC grant will help cover the start-up and implementation costs of the KHIC's 10-year strategic plan to work with the federal government in diversifying southeastern Kentucky's economy and making it more resilient.
"The Promise Zone is an exciting tool in our efforts to transform the economy of Kentucky's Appalachian region," said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. "Promoting partnerships that can help revitalize our communities, investing in job creation, and expanding educational opportunities will make up essential parts of our ongoing Shaping Our Appalachian Region [SOAR] initiative. The Promise Zone presents a rare opportunity to accelerate our progress, spark innovation, and empower and support families in eastern Kentucky."
ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl noted that "six weeks ago, President Obama designated the southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone. Today the Appalachian Regional Commission is pleased to be awarding the very first Promise Zone grant, a $250,000 two-year allocation, to support the work of the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation as it takes on the leadership role for the southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone initiative."
Congressman Hal Rogers said he was "extremely pleased that Kentucky Highlands has won a place in the Promise Zones Initiative. This grant funding is another positive step forward in our efforts to expand economic development, promote job growth, and increase economic opportunity for the thousands of people who live and work in southeastern Kentucky."
Jerry Rickett, president of KHIC, said he looked forward to "seeing the coordinated effort of our many Promise Zone partners to make a positive difference in the eight counties designated" as one of the first rural Promise Zones.
Doug O'Brien, deputy under secretary for USDA Rural Development, confirmed the agency's partnership in the Promise Zones Initiative, noting that "USDA is a committed partner to the Promise Zone strategy, which provides ladders of opportunity to people living in areas of economic distress. These partnerships enable us to work directly with local organizations to meet a community's specific needs in real time over and above the support they have gotten to date. We are looking forward to continued work with ARC and the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation to bring solid solutions to the region's challenges."
The Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation has committed to prioritizing a $2 million revolving loan fund dedicated to the Promise Zone business community, which ensures that a long-term resource will be in place to support business growth and job-creation efforts.