TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Editorials

March 25, 2014

How do you define development in eastern Ky?

CORBIN — Listening to the evening news can be a frightening experience. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the countless references to job losses currently occurring in eastern Kentucky. Last year, while working as a research fellow in Pike County, I listened appreciatively in the meetings I attended when local individuals lamented the fact that their friends and neighbors had lost their jobs in the coal industry. Many of them described watching their neighbors sell their belongings on their lawns to make ends meet, or having friends who chose to migrate from the region in hopes of finding economic stability beyond the mountains.

The recent announcement of a “Promise Zone” designation in eastern Kentucky may inspire hope in many of us as these eight counties will have a competitive advantage in applying for federal funding, and various federal agencies will provide assistance and coordination of development efforts. The Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, a regionally based organization, will serve as the coordinating entity for the eight counties.

The question that remains in the back of my mind with regard to all of this, these discussions of yet another round of federal funding for of Appalachia, the SOAR (Saving Our Appalachian Region) conference, and the countless number of news articles I see touching upon the need for improving broadband access, creating jobs, or reducing teen pregnancy is this: Why aren’t we talking — in a very critical manner — about the history of development in eastern Kentucky? If we mean to move forward in a way that learns lessons from the past, why aren’t we talking about the past?

As a native of eastern Kentucky, I grew up learning about the cultural tradition bearers of my homeplace, about basketmaking and traditional Appalachian music, but I did not hear a lot about the local color writers’ movement in the late 1800s, or how industrialization and the coming of the railroads shaped the future of communities throughout the early 1900s. No one explained to me what the Broad Form Deed was, or that the Appalachian Regional Commission had been established in the 1960s to improve the quality of life in the region. And, despite growing up in Letcher County, home of historian Harry Caudill, I failed to have a deep understanding of Caudill’s work Night Comes to the Cumberlands until I found myself as an undergraduate history major taking an Appalachian Studies course at the University of Kentucky. Regardless of what we think of Caudill’s arguments, we must agree he was a powerful writer who brought much attention to eastern Kentucky. Perhaps it is a missed opportunity that youth in our region often do not learn about our noted authors, civic leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs, and educators…

It is this question of Appalachian Kentucky’s history that continues to linger in my thoughts. Why have we seen such little attention given to the history of the region by policy makers creating development strategies in/for the region? This is not only a question that lingers in the back of my mind, and I am not unique in this regard. These are murmurings that we hear constantly, if we are appreciatively listening to our fellow citizens.

On April 11, Union College will host a symposium on economic development to foster a conversation with community members on how we can/should move forward in our region. The forum will include leaders and practitioners in economic development who are making strides to improve our outlook. Our guests include Hal B. Goode with the Kentucky Association for Economic Development, and Mandy Lambert with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development who will provide an overview of development strategies in eastern Kentucky and the rest of the Commonwealth. Going a step further to create diversity and contribute more broadly to the development conversation, we have also invited Kent Whitworth with the Kentucky Historical Society, Teresa Montgomery with University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in Knox County, and Jeff Spradling with the University of Kentucky Robinson Scholars.

This symposium is open to our students, our community members, and our regional leaders. It is our hope that Union College might provide a place to come together to reimagine what development could look like in eastern Kentucky — through an appreciation for and understanding of the region’s history. We want our community to feel welcome to join us, to come and share their thoughts and questions with our speakers. To this extent, I would like to pose a question to those who read this editorial piece.  

How do YOU define “development” in eastern Kentucky? What is important to you in your search for economic meaning and “the good life”? What topics do you feel are not being addressed throughout the region, and what should be done about?

I look forward to hearing your ideas and seeing you at this event!

 

Amanda Fickey is an assistant professor of intercultural geography and coordinator of Appalachian Studies at Union College. She can be reached at afickey@unionky.edu

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