Economic Development in Appalachia: It’s Not Always about the Roads

Poverty is one of the big themes in So Far Appalachia, particularly how the relationship between local, state, and national governing bodies impacts the region.

In The Road to Poverty, researchers found that as rural areas were pulled into the national economy, the long-term effects (at least in Clay County) undermined the local economy. One issue faced in that area: the cost of building, maintaining, and using transportation systems.

I bring this up because I’m both keenly interested in poverty in Appalachia, and wholly informed as an expert. I spend a great deal of time reading about these issues, but I don’t live them on a daily basis.

The Appalachian Regional Commission, a government group tasked with overseeing development in the region, recently released a report, “Strategies for Economic Improvement in Appalachia’s Distressed Rural Counties,” which is worth a read for anyone trying to get a sense of the acute problems in the region.

In that report, they address some of the underlying reasons for poverty and the propose a series of touch points for local regions to focus. As I read, though, I was reminded that while I sometimes get hung up on the idea of transportation and national economic structures, the reasons for poverty in Appalachia are complex.

Location, not surprisingly, is a significant factor in determining economic status. Counties located closer to urban areas, major transportation corridors, or supplies of natural resources generally perform better than those in more rural areas with few resources. Yet, transportation improvement strategies appear to yield mixed results. While road enhancements can certainly improve local access and reduce isolation, they are far from being a panacea for economic distress and can often bring unintended consequences. — from the executive summary “Strategies for Economic Improvement in Appalachia’s Distressed Rural Counties” 

I have to remind myself not to fall into the lazy intellectual trap of repetition. Certainly location and transportation matter, but there is so much more at work.

Related Links

Been there, done that, via the Smoky Mountain News
Morgan County: an economic model?, via the Morgan County News