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West Virginia partners with ARC for improvement

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of commentaries from governors of states comprising the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency for the region.

For every home improvement project, big or small, you need the right tools to get the job done. That’s one way to think about the Appalachian Regional Commission, or ARC. Since 1965, ARC has been committed to investing in Appalachia by providing essential resources to build our communities, upgrade our infrastructure, and develop our regional economy.

ARC is a federal-state-local partnership, which includes 13 states in the Appalachian region, from southern New York to northern Mississippi, including Ohio, focusing on economic development in 420 counties across the Appalachian Region. West Virginia has a unique position within the ARC, because our entire state falls within the commission’s 420-county footprint. No other state holds this distinction.

I know that the ARC is committed to West Virginia. As they do with all of Appalachia, the ARC is devoted to moving our state forward. So am I.

One way I have demonstrated this commitment is by elevating our State Development Office to a cabinet-level department within my administration; creating the West Virginia Department of Economic Development. This is the department that administers West Virginia’s ARC program. I feel that elevating our economic development efforts to this level allows us to better tell Appalachia’s story and market ourselves to the outside world.

As a partner with ARC, each year I work to identify top priorities affecting West Virginia and its citizens. The top priorities include providing basic infrastructure, such as water and wastewater systems, to our most vulnerable West Virginians; addressing substance use disorder and creating a recovery ecosystem that assists with workforce reentry; and revitalizing our communities affected by reductions in coal extraction, in-part by addressing abandoned and vacant buildings. Our partnership with the ARC also allows us to provide business support and assistance to increase economic opportunities and investment in the deployment of critical broadband infrastructure.

Other targeted investment priorities reflect my ongoing commitment to workforce development; technical and capital assistance to businesses; developing our emerging economic sectors such as technology, tourism, and advanced energy; and developing commercial and industrial sites.

Some of our most recent priority investments in West Virginia include the following.

Economic opportunities: $7.8 million invested in entrepreneurial strategies to strengthen the state’s economy; critical infrastructure: $3.4 million invested in developing our critical infrastructure, including broadband, transportation, and water/sewer systems; workforce: $2 million to boost the education, skills, and health that West Virginians need to work and succeed; additional priorities: $1.1 million to develop our leadership and community capabilities and leverage our natural and cultural resources.

Our ongoing collaboration with the ARC allowed West Virginia to turn our priorities into action last year, resulting in:

• 30 projects in West Virginia being awarded support from the ARC funding;

• 2,000 students trained and educated;

• 1,000 jobs created or retained;

• $14.3 million in total investment, matched by nearly $10.8 million in other federal, state, and local funding, attracting an additional $3.1 million in leveraged private investments.

These are only a few of the most recent ARC investments in West Virginia. ARC investments, as a whole, have been critical to our stateás community and economic development needs, while maximizing our assets and allowing for continued growth in our economy.

Most recently, ARC welcomed its first federal co-chair from West Virginia, Gayle Manchin. I have known Gayle for a long time and have worked alongside her on several initiatives. I know, more than anything, Gayle wants goodness for West Virginia and the entire Appalachian Region. This is an exciting moment for West Virginia, and it is an exciting time for the ARC.

I thank everyone involved with the ARC from the bottom of my heart for all that you do for the people of West Virginia. I know that with the strong partnership between the ARC and our State, we can continue to develop and improve Almost Heaven West Virginia, ensuring a brighter future for our great state and the great people who call it home.

Jim Justice is the governor of West Virginia.

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