By LeeAnn Cain / Staff Writer
Drugs, poverty, housing and jobs were all issues discussed at a Kentucky Promise Zone meeting Friday in the Whitley County Fiscal Court courtroom.
Professor Lorraine Garkovich with the University of Kentucky came to gather the opinions of Whitley County officials and citizens concerning the county’s greatest assets and its most dire problems that can be addressed through the Promise Zones.
All of Knox, Clay, Leslie, Perry, Letcher, Harlan and Bell counties, and part of Whitley County are included in the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone. The Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation will serve as the administrator of the zone, and will coordinate with the county to manage available resources and focus on the area’s issues.
Promise Zones are given a boost in their chances to receive federal grants for development, Garkovich said. According to Director of County Projects Amber Owens, this is a good thing because grant writers from rural areas “can’t compete” with grant writers from large urban areas.
“[Federal officials] have asked me why people here don’t just take the bus, or use a pay phone,” Owens said. “They don’t understand the problems we face at all. Rural problems are different from city problems.”
“This is a good opportunity to get grants funded,” Garkovich said. “There is a lot of investment into the concept of the Promise Zone.”
Garkovich also said the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation was aiming to get a proposal for a regional plan finished by the end of May, and Friday’s session would provide a base for the community to begin its plans for improvement.
“Our plans will be grounded in what the people in the area want,” Garkovich said.
Garkovich will take the answers given in the meeting and use them to identify key problems affecting Kentucky’s Promise Zones. These key problems will be the base for solutions which, thanks to the Promise Zone, have a better chance of being funded by federal grants.
“This is a good starting point,” said President of TEKSwork Eddie Moore. “I think it will benefit the community.