By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Funding for the Promise Zone program involving eight southeastern Kentucky counties has been awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
All of Knox County and most of Whitley County are included in the Promise Zone, which is also made up of Bell, Clay, Harlan, Leslie, Letcher and Perry counties.
The ARC announced Tuesday the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC) in London will carry out the program with a two-year allocation of $250,000.
In January, President Obama named southeastern Kentucky as the first rural region — and the first of five “Promise Zones” in the nation — to participate in the government program.
The Promise Zone program partners communities with the federal government to improve the economy, create jobs, expand educational opportunities, improve public safety, and increase access to quality, affordable housing.
To make that possible, the region will be singled out for federal grants and tax incentives.
The cities of Corbin and Williamsburg, and the southern part of Whitley County to the Tennessee line are included in the Promise Zone, according to Jerry Rickett, President and CEO of Kentucky Highlands.
“We have to keep the total population in the Promise Zone under 200,000. So we started in the counties mostly impacted by the loss of direct coal mining jobs and went from there,” he said Wednesday during a phone interview from London.
Amber Owens, County Projects Director for the Whitley County Judge-Executive’s Office, said Wednesday from Williamsburg, “Most of Whitley County is in the Promise Zone, based on population. The Fiscal Court did approve the application to be included in the Promise Zone designation back last fall, before the first of the year. Mr. Rickett came to the court meeting and explained the process. It doesn’t cost the county anything to be included in this. We’re very thankful Mr. Rickett and Kentucky Highlands took the lead on this. It’s going to be a very positive thing for Whitley County and southeastern Kentucky.”
“We did the resolution back in the fall and approved it. This is a big deal. This will allow us to open up some doors here, economically. We’ll be able to get grants, and will allow the federal government to let us receive points, which could also help us with the funding for our hospital,” Knox County Judge-Executive J. M. Hall said Wednesday from Barbourville.
The “points” Hall referred to are known as “preference points.”
The Promise Zone in southeastern Kentucky will not receive direct funding, but will benefit from technical assistance, federal staff support, and receive more extensive preference points and access to other federal grant programs.
According to whitehouse.gov, should Congress enact proposed Promise Zone tax credits, private businesses would receive tax incentives for hiring and investing in Promise Zones.
Rickett said the ARC funds for the southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone come through the state. The $250,000 grant comes at $125,000 a year, for a total of two years.
“We’ll use that money for funds to implement the Promise Zone activities. Kentucky Highlands is serving as the lead entity. It’s a ten-year program as designated by the White House, but the first two years will be used as administrative start-up costs,” he noted.
The key strategies for Kentucky Highlands in the southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone include:
* Carrying out a sustainable economic effort across the region, focused on diversifying the region’s economy to make it stronger and more flexible.
* Creating jobs and growing small businesses, by leveraging $1.3 million of private sector funds in a revolving loan fund targeted inside the Promise Zone.
* Creating leadership and entrepreneur training for young people, and industry-specific re-training opportunities for the skilled workforce in the region. Kentucky Highlands added that would be done through their corporation, along with the University of Kentucky Economic Development Initiative and the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP).
* Berea College will run evidence-based college and career readiness programs for high school students in the Promise Zone, while Eastern Kentucky University will expand their technical education programs. That’s in order to ensure all young persons having access to a high-quality education.
Along with southeastern Kentucky, the other four areas named as the first five Promise Zones are San Antonio, Tex.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Philadelphia, Pa.; and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Those five zones are part of the 20 zones that will be announced over the next three years.
By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
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