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Appalachian Initiative Seeks to Help Rural Communities in 13 States to Develop Jobs and Grow the Economy

Last week, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and a delegation of senior officials traveled to Abingdon, Virginia, to announce the Appalachian Regional Development Initiative, an Interagency Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) designed to build a stronger and more diversified economy in Appalachia.  The delegation included Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl.

The Appalachian region includes all or parts of 13 states and has long faced higher poverty and unemployment rates than the nation as a whole. It was hit especially hard by the recent economic downturn.  The announcement on Friday was the culmination of a year-long effort, initiated by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and led by ARC and USDA, to identify ways that the Federal government can most effectively work to improve quality of life and increase economic opportunity in the region.

The MOU represents an unprecedented interagency focus on Appalachia.  It will create an Interagency Coordinating Council on Appalachia and establish Regional Steering Committees to coordinate Federal activity.  Under the MOU, agencies will conduct coordinated outreach to local communities to help them learn about and participate in Federal programs.

In announcing the MOU, Deputy Secretary Merrigan emphasized the Obama Administration’s commitment to improving the effectiveness of government efforts.  “To marshal the resources of so many Federal agencies for the benefit of the Appalachian region is truly an example of government ‘for the people’ at its best. It’s a hallmark of this Administration to bring together agencies and efforts for a common purpose,” she said.   She also pointed to the Administration’s continuing commitment to the future of rural America, saying, “We understand the challenges faced by rural communities.  And we recognize that because of their agricultural resources, these communities are uniquely situated to take advantage of the remarkable opportunities of this century.”

During the visit, the Federal delegation had the opportunity to tour Abingdon’s revitalized downtown area and visit the historic Barter Theatre (Virginia’s State Theatre), both part of southwest Virginia’s efforts to transform the area’s economy.  The announcement itself took place at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, established to strengthen the economy of southwest Virginia through the education and training of the current and future workforce.  The Center was funded in part by the state of Virginia and ARC, through an agreement with USDA.

Agencies participating in this historic agreement are ARC, USDA, the Departments of Commerce, Education, Interior, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Small Business Administration.

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