Southeastern Kentucky received another helping hand to begin the climb out of the economic pit it has been in the last two years after President Obama announced last week that eight counties in the region would be designated as one of the first five federal “promise zones” he plans to designate in the next three years.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a promise zone is a designated high-poverty community “where the federal government will partner with and invest in communities to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, and improve public safety.”
The Herald reported at the end of November that the Perry County Fiscal Court had held a special called meeting in order to approve a resolution to include Perry County as part of the promise zone application before the deadline. At that time, Perry County Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble said the designation would basically open up more opportunities for the county to receive grant funds in the future.
Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC), the group collaborating for the application, partnered with the eight counties, which include Perry, Letcher, Leslie, Harlan, Bell, Clay, Knox, and part of Whitley, to submit the application.This region is currently the only rural region in the nation to receive the designation.
U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers, who represents Kentucky’s 5th District, praised the announcement and the Obama administration for helping an area so obviously in need.
“I’m glad the administration has finally awakened to the economic problems that are facing Southern and Eastern Kentucky due to the coal job losses,” Rogers said. “This program shows promise for recruiting private industry in several of our hard-hit counties.”
According to a fact sheet from the office of the White House press secretary, the KHIC key strategies for the Southeastern Kentucky promise zone include “creating jobs and growing small businesses by leveraging $1.3 million of private sector funds in a revolving loan fund targeted within the promise zone,” training those in the area on entrepreneur and leadership skills and offering more re-training opportunities for different industries, and expanding educational opportunities to high school students in the counties with added programs from Berea College and Eastern Kentucky University.