Since the time I was a young boy growing up in Farmington, I have always known that West Virginians are the hardest working people in America. We have done the heavy lifting that has made our country the strongest in the world. Whether working in the mines or at one of our new technology companies, we are proud of our hard work and dedication to our country.
First and foremost on the minds of many West Virginians is the strength of our economy and the ability for men and women to find job opportunities. As the American economy continues to grow into the 21st century, it is important that West Virginia looks at ways to diversify local economies, create jobs and foster entrepreneurship.
One of West Virginia’s greatest economic partners is the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal organization that works with the people of Appalachia to create sustained economic development and improved quality of life.
On his way to the White House in 1960, President John F. Kennedy traveled up and down our state, which was critical to the success of his presidential campaign. It made such an impression on him that he vowed to address the poverty he saw across Appalachia. President Kennedy paved the way for the ARC to be created and support rural communities.
The ARC has had an enormous impact on our state ever since, and it continues to create new opportunities for West Virginians. Since 2015, our state has received more than $80 million in funds for infrastructure projects and economic and workforce development initiatives.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have fought to increase ARC’s budget each year. I’m proud to say that the bill we passed out of committee in September includes $175 million for the ARC, $10 million more than last year and the largest nonhighway budget in the ARC’s history.
It includes $10 million for rural broadband deployment, including a provision I authored that would expand eligibility to 10 more distressed counties in West Virginia. It also includes $10 million for a pilot program addressing the substance abuse crisis in Appalachia.
I’m extremely proud of the fact that the ARC includes $50 million for POWER grants in West Virginia. I have long been a champion of the POWER grant program, which has been so critical in targeting resources to help areas affected by the loss of coal mining jobs. Since 2016, when Congress first provided funding for this program, West Virginia has received more than $46 million, and it’s making a difference every single day.
Today, I’ll be traveling our state with Tim Thomas, the federal co-chairman of the ARC, to show him the impact of their support. Some of these projects may seem small in scale, but they are making a significant difference in communities across West Virginia.
Tim and I will begin the day with two events in South Charleston, where we will talk with attendees about how to successfully compete for funding from the ARC and highlight to Tim one of our emerging sectors — the tech industry.
Later in the day, we will take a walking tour of Elk City, so Tim can see how our small neighborhoods have thrived with a lot of hard work, and some investment. Our last stop will be a job fair in Beckley, where we will hold a roundtable discussion about the economic successes and challenges in our state.
I’m proud of our state and love to show it off every chance I get. ARC funding is currently going to help with the development of our agriculture industry, to foster budding entrepreneurs, and support local tech start-ups. The funding is helping to diversify our economy.
I want West Virginians to know how important the ARC is to our state and that I believe we need to double down in support of their efforts. I will continue to make sure the ARC stays connected to West Virginia, just as President Kennedy envisioned.