Rep. Chris Fugate, District 84, Chavies Commentary
In much of eastern Kentucky, hard economic times have largely been the norm for many of our hardworking, God-fearing families in recent years.
Left behind by the downturn in the coal industry, many communities in Appalachia are struggling to get by. Thankfully, our area has benefited immensely from the resources provided by programs like the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Initiatives like the ARC, combined with recent federal and state policies that encourage job growth and innovation, have given many of our citizens a lifeline.
The ARC is a partnership between Washington D.C. and 13 state governments, assisting over 400 counties and millions of people across Appalachia. Far from a traditional government program, the ARC makes smart, targeted investments in things like roads, broadband internet, and critical workforce development initiatives. Infrastructure and job preparation are not just amenities; they are a vital necessity for us to build a strong economy and a capable, high-quality workforce.
In a time of stressed budgets on all levels of government, every expenditure needs to be carefully reviewed, with deference given to the taxpayers who fund our government. If any type of government spending is not providing tangible benefits to taxpayers, as well as providing a strong economic return, it should be eliminated.
However, this is not the case with the ARC. While it is tempting to cut all that we can in a time where our debt and deficits are soaring, it is vital that we continue investing in economic opportunity for our people. Not just a check in the mail that requires little effort or accountability, but an investment in the promise of our people. An investment that will create much-needed economic development opportunities in our communities, similar to the $15 million we invested in Braidy Industries, helping to create 550 high-paying aluminum jobs in northeastern Kentucky.
Thankfully, Kentucky’s leaders have stood strong against proposals on the federal level to cut this investment, in a way that should make all of our citizens proud. Congressman Hal Rogers, as well as Governor Bevin’s administration, have fought hard on our behalf in Washington, saving ARC funding and even increasing this year’s allotment by several million dollars.
The vital services provided by the ARC go a long way in creating jobs, supporting our families, fighting the devastating drug epidemic, and promoting the vast tourism opportunities in Eastern Kentucky.
While decades of missed opportunities have created a sense of desperation in the mountains, our economy is beginning to rebound; pro-jobs policies are finally beginning to come out of Frankfort under new leadership, creating new opportunities for our citizens. Much work is left to be done, but we are already seeing the fruits of our labor as some mines are reopening, and manufacturing jobs are beginning to relocate to areas where they once thrived.
We must continue to focus our attention on not only creating jobs, but building a high-quality workforce, a workforce that is capable of filling new, advanced manufacturing jobs. This requires comprehensive job training, and an approach to education that prioritizes technical skills.
The Appalachian Regional Commission has been a valuable partner for eastern Kentucky, and should continue to be moving forward. This is something every leader should keep in mind when crafting future budgets, so that the potential of our Appalachian counties can be maximized. We have incredible people in our area; citizens who show a tremendous level of dedication to their families, faith, and communities. Federal programs like the ARC must continue to thrive as we grow an economy that is truly built to last.
Rep. Chris Fugate is a freshman State Representative from Chavies. He represents the 84th district, which includes Perry as well as part of Harlan County. Contact him with any questions, concerns, or advice. He can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or via e-mail at Chris.Fugate@lrc.ky.gov.