HAZARD — The Perry County Fiscal Court this week heard a proposal for a regional economic summit aimed at working on job creation and infrastructure growth.
As job loss and loss of income are becoming commonplace across the United States, the Appalachian region, which has suffered from poverty for many generations, is continuing to feel the crush of this economic downturn. Thousands of layoffs are being announced in the coal industry, which is in turn affecting railroads and trucking. These industries make up the vast majority of jobs in the area.
The summit proposed during the court’s meeting on Tuesday would bring together people in the region to create short and long term goals for progress.
Over the last two regularly scheduled fiscal court meetings, Joey Stidham, a private investigator from Leslie County, has presented his ideas for growth in the county. Along with research and even estimates for amount of money needed to complete different projects, Stidham has been willing to work with the county to make these goals a reality.
During the last fiscal court meeting in August, Stidham suggested building a major road or a railroad up to the industrial park in Chavies to make it more accessible for larger loads to be carried in and out by businesses. At this meeting he said that while these goals are long term, the planning for them needed to start now.
“Last time I was here I came to you with rail road, big ideas, big projects that are years down the road,” Stidham told the court during it regular meeting this week. “No way we can do them now, but we can start planning now.”
Part of this planning would include setting up a plan for growth in not only Perry County but the surrounding counties. “I am going to make a suggestion that this fiscal court sponsor an economic summit at the Forum (in Hazard),” he continued.
Much of the growth that can be seen in Pikeville is due to the fact that they held a similar summit 20 years ago, Stidham added. Officials there made long term plans, but were able to work on short term goals while figuring out funding and infrastructure problems that would take longer to correct.
According to Stidham, it is because of this that they have a major medical center and a flourishing entertainment scene with the Pikeville Expo Center. In the last 10 years, while nearly every other city in Eastern Kentucky has lost population, Pikeville has been able to grow by nearly 10 percent.
Part of Stidham’s plan is to use the region’s main natural resource, coal. While the energy and power industries are using less coal, it is still being used in a large number of products. “We produce coal. In reality I thought coal was for burning and energy, that is not so,” said Stidham. “Coal is used in variety of things that we see and use every day.”
He brought a list of 37 different products that can be made from coal. He suggested focusing on these industries for new businesses coming to the area since both the companies and the mines would need employees.
“One small coal mine can literally employ thousands of people if we can get that industry in here,” he said.
The proposed summit would set short term goals such as creating a county website for both tourism and businesses, and long term goals like expanding the runway at the airport to be able to accommodate commercial flights. “There are people in this county and this area that are much smarter than us,” said Stidham. “Let’s get all of our resources in one place.”
Stidham continued to talk about the perceptions given off by the county to those looking to move businesses to the area, such as not having available natural gas at the Coal Fields Industrial Park. While this could easily be added without having it available prior to a new company locating in Perry County, they may not be aware of this.
Stidham said that even though we cannot do many of the large projects until grants and funding come available, having the plans in place can still convince companies that the work on these projects is continuing.
By setting dates and making plans, grants and money can be much more easily found since the plans are in place, he said. “I am here to give you ideas and make you think.”
Members of the court reacted positively to Stidham’s ideas, though at present no concrete plans have been made.