Gov. Andy Beshear: Eastern Ky.’s economy accelerating


This commentary is part of a series from governors of the 13 states in the Appalachian Regional Commission. ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government and state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region.

Kentucky’s economy is on fire, with economic momentum in every corner of the commonwealth. One region with potential we can’t ignore is Eastern Kentucky, specifically in our Appalachian counties. With investments in industries like agritech and manufacturing, strong fiscal management and upgrades to critical infrastructure, Eastern Kentucky is ready to soar.

Each week, we are announcing new jobs, with companies expanding or locating new facilities in this region. Since I took office, we’ve announced 67 projects totaling nearly $959 million in new investments and creating more than 3,000 full-time jobs in Eastern Kentucky alone. Even amid the global pandemic, we’ve kept our eye on the ball and found ways to make progress, with companies including AppHarvest and Firestone Industrial Products expanding in the region, creating hundreds of jobs each.

One reason we are seeing growth in Eastern Kentucky is because our administration prioritizes opportunities that include good-paying jobs, strong education systems and affordable health care in every part of Kentucky. We are also making progress thanks to the investments and partnership from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Since the 1960s, ARC has worked to create prosperity in every community in the Appalachian region, which includes 54 of Kentucky’s counties.

These investments have created progress. In Perry County, ARC invested $1 million for an expansion at Dajcor Aluminum, which will help expand operations, add a product line and create an additional 50 jobs.

We’re seeing opportunities like this throughout the region. In 2020, the ARC invested $42.3 million into 65 projects in Eastern Kentucky, the largest single-state investment in decades. We expect the projects to attract an additional $121.5 million in leveraged private investments, create or retain more than 2,300 jobs, educate nearly 3,500 students and workers and benefit 1.2 million Kentuckians.

I believe we continue this momentum and build a stronger Appalachian region by investing in infrastructure — from our roads and bridges to water and wastewater infrastructure. Our administration has key ways we’re tackling this mission.

Thanks to a bipartisan agreement with the Kentucky Legislature, my Better Kentucky Plan invests more than $750 million to build schools, expand broadband access and provide clean drinking water and quality sewer systems across Kentucky, creating 14,500 jobs. Aligned with this mission, the ARC also highly prioritizes investment in critical infrastructure like water and wastewater systems, as well as key roadways identified as vital for economic progress, coined the Appalachian Development Highway System.

One major, barrier-breaking project supported by the ARC in recent months is a $1.5 million investment in the City of Paintsville to increase the capacity of a major wastewater treatment plant. When we think about economic development, we don’t always think about water and wastewater treatment plants. However, if those reach capacity, companies cannot invest and expand, making modern water and sewer infrastructure a vital prerequisite for economic investment.

Equally important to support the economy of the future are our roads.

Our administration understands the topography of Appalachia has often been considered an obstacle for quick transportation, whether that be for shipping goods or for connecting our citizens to vital services like health care. In Eastern Kentucky we’ve made great progress with the Mountain Parkway, which the ARC recognizes as a priority corridor. Now with half of the project complete, the 46-mile expansion will be the final, finishing link in creating a 400-mile-long, four-lane, high-speed corridor from Paducah in Western Kentucky to Pikeville in Eastern Kentucky.

When I ran for governor, I made a commitment to focus on transportation infrastructure. Improved safety and mobility is vitally important for tourism, economic development and overall quality of life for the people who are proud to call Eastern Kentucky home.

Modernizing infrastructure and building the economy of the future aren’t just buzz words or talking points, but are the way we create sustained growth, opportunity and better lives for our families. I want to encourage all 13 Appalachian states to continue working together to build a stronger future for our people. One that includes good-paying jobs, quality, accessible health care and a world-class education system in every community. That’s not a red or a blue issue, it’s about doing the right thing for all of us. Let’s get this work done, together.

Andy Beshear is the Democratic governor of Kentucky.

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