By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Appalachian Regional Commission remains committed to its role as a collaborator and partner for economic development in the commission’s 24 Mississippi counties, the entity’s new federal co-chairman said Wednesday.
Earl Gohl, unanimously confirmed by the Senate in March, met with the Daily Journal editorial board as part of a tour of Mississippi’s ARC counties. On Monday, he presented a $350,000 grant for infrastructure partnership in Pontotoc at Southern Motion’s $7 million plant expansion.
“Our goal isn’t to do things for people but to work with community leaders to foster their creativity and imagination,” Gohl said.
ARC was founded in 1965 during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson to help bring the high-poverty Appalachian region into economic competitiveness with the rest of the nation. The agency has participated in about 1,500 Mississippi projects, ARC state director Mike Armour said.
Appalachia is a 205,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. ARC embraces all or part of 13 states, from southern New York to Kemper County in east central Mississippi.
Gohl, on his first trip to Mississippi, said ARC’s goal remains encouraging economic growth that leads to all of the region’s 420 counties being at least as prosperous as the average among the 3,600 counties nationwide. He noted that 12 of Mississippi’s 24 ARC counties are classified as economically distressed or at risk.
Three counties – Pontotoc, Union and Lee – are classed as transitional, two notches below full economic attainment. Only six counties in the whole region are classed as achieving parity with the national averages in employment, per capita income and poverty rates.
On the other hand, Gohl noted, “When ARC was started 45 years ago, a third of the region’s people lived in poverty, and that has dropped to 13 or 14 percent.”
Gohl also noted Mississippi and Kentucky remain the most prosperity-challenged of the 13 states.
He said the Obama administration is fully committed to ARC’s long-term goals and seeks $76 million in the 2011 budget for ARC program operations.
The commission’s programs are designed to advance the four goals of the ARC strategic plan:
n Increasing job opportunities and per capita income in the Appalachian Region to reach parity with the nation;
n Strengthening all of Appalachia’s 25 million citizens to compete individually in the economy;
n Improving the region’s infrastructure for economic competitiveness; and,
n Completing the Appalachian Development Highway System, which includes parts of U.S. Highway 78 and Mississippi Highway 6.
Gohl also praised long-term continuity in ARC’s non-political staff, which includes Chief of Staff Guy Land, a Eupora native who leads the Washington office.
Contact Joe Rutherford at (662) 678-1597 or firstname.lastname@example.org.