|By Bob Weaver|
Much like pot-holed, crooked and bumpy roads many of West Virginia's rural
counties, lacking poor access to interstate highways, jobs and commerce,
are now being left behind in other infrastructure, telecommunications.
A University of Texas study just released says there is a shortfall of
computers, internet access and worker skills. Appalachia is being left
behind, again. Obtaining affordable telecommunications is a major barrier to
education and economic development
Lower-cost broad band technology, favored by small and medium-sized
businesses is not widely available.
The "Great Societies" Appalachian Regional Commission promised over 35
years ago to bring roads, water, sewage and other infrastructure to the
poorest of counties, but a Columbus Dispatch story showed most of the
money went where the money already was, populated areas with lots of
Ever since, nearly all economic development models have failed to help rural
areas, including the give-a-way programs. Over 5000 light-industry jobs have
left the region in the last year, and more are going south. Remember that
"giant sucking sound" that is supposed to open America to the world
market, and make better lives for the working class.
Our central West Virginia counties have continued to exist in a black hole,
struggling with the nation's highest unemployment, no clout, scattered
population and no voting power.
Worse yet, there is no recognized spokesperson for the cause.
It is sad when many counties grovel for the pork from the Budget Digest, just
There is an increased intensity of "move or die," with a broader vision of
poverty on the horizon for those who remain.
In counties like Calhoun, there will be few kids to educate and few to buy
goods and services. Those with retirement incomes are among the
survivors, enjoying country life.
One well-known elected official, when I spoke to him about infrastructure
and basic jobs, said "You'd better write more grants."
Most government money streams, like the ARC, require local matching
money, which is generally just not there.
West Virginia's new $200 million economic package, which was originally
directed toward downtown Wheeling development, has created over 200
requests from West Virginia towns and counties.
Where do the smallest and most rural counties stand on accessing this
money for local projects? The grants require private investment or local
matching money. It does not exist for those on the bottom.
It is a mystery, where Roane, Ritchie, Braxton or Gilmer will come up with
matching funds. They have submitted grant applications totaling $25 million,
plus some money for the proposed NASCAR park at Flatwoods. They must
have a few local businessmen with deep pockets, or maybe they are better
The Local Option Economic Development Amendment will be on the West
Virginia ballot this fall. It will allow the use of "tax increment financing" to
fund economic development within counties, but voters declined such a
proposal in 1998, viewing it as just another tax increase.
The WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research reported growth will
be slower in West Virginia in the next 10 years, compared to the rest of the
The traditionally high-paying industries, coal, chemicals and steel, can
expect some hard times, although production levels could remain high, it
will take fewer workers to do the job.
A slow growth rate, according to the WVU study, means sluggish income
West Virginian's net incomes are nearly 30% below the national average.
The study says West Virginia must invest in physical improvements,
highways, industrial sites, water and sewer lines, plus
The study was critical that 65% of all West Virginians, 25 or older did not
earn a high school diploma. This is the highest rate in the nation.
Social commentators suggest West Virginian's rarely speak out for their
interests, join causes or go to the polls. They "Lay down and take it," a lack
of self-worth or esteem. "I was told if I didn't get a good education, this
would happen to me." Emerson said "Poverty consists of feeling poor."
Almost every time I write a gloomy article about the economy, I seem
compelled to speak well of this land, its beauty and livability, which must
seem contradictory. It seems tragic we must wallow in such problems.