After years of building their regional economy around extractive industries, many Appalachian communities now are tapping into their bountiful outdoor assets to draw tourists—-and perhaps manufacturers and other job creators.
Places like Roanoke, Virginia, have created a new model for economic development, pairing traditional lures like workforce and infrastructure with an emphasis on livability and access to outdoor recreation.
Substantial challenges remain, however—-including President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which would gut a number of programs crucial to economic diversification efforts.
Read the story at 100 Days in Appalachia.
Donald Trump dominated Appalachia on Election Day, 2016, and he wasted no time in loosening regulations on the region’s coal industry. In the big picture, however, the regulatory shifts mean an extension of the status quo.
His proposed budget, however, which would gut the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Economic Development Administration, the USDA’s infrastructure budget and other programs crucial to economic development efforts, may well wipe out any job gains from the coal industry.
For Vice, I tried to sort out the impact of federal actions on Appalachia under Trump. Read it here.
When the billionaire entered the primary, longtime politicos scoffed. He had no political experience, had switched parties repeatedly over the previous decades, and had a spotty track record in business. Yet he vanquished his establishment candidates in the primary and headed into the general election running an unorthodox campaign based around his personality.
It’s not Donald Trump, of course, but Jim Justice, West Virginia’s only billionaire and owner of the Greenbrier Resort and the largest privately held coal company east of the Mississippi River. Justice stands as a figure simultaneously beloved—he coaches high-school basketball and bailed out the historic Greenbrier when it faced potential closure—and reviled, as his coal company has developed a reputation for not paying debts, taxes or environmental obligations.
Read more about Justice, his Republican opponent Bill Cole, and what may be the weirdest undercard election in America at Politico Magazine.
This year the Salem Fair featured chocolate-covered bacon on a stick, which got me thinking about the vendors at the country’s biggest food fairs who drive fair food innovation.
A trip to Iowa during that state’s fair got the wheels spinning even faster, and next thing I knew, I was eating a pineapple bowl and interviewing the man who popularized deep-fried candy bars in the Midwest.
Read about that and more in my story for Munchies.
Amtrak is running on schedule for its arrival in Roanoke next fall. Even as the Star City prepares to celebrate the return of passenger rail for the first time in more than 34 years, its neighbors to the southwest already are pushing to extend the service.
The service arrives as part of Amtrak’s extensions of its Northeast Regional service into Virginia. The commonwealth invests in state-funded train extensions that run to Lynchburg, Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News. The Lynchburg extension, which began regular daily service in 2009, outperformed expectations and sparked momentum that lead to the push westward to Roanoke.
Amtrak estimates it generates a national economic impact of $7.9 billion annually, supporting more than 110,000 jobs through its daily operations plus tourism and supplier impacts.
Local governments also desire the economic boost that goes with passenger rail, which tends to create a 3-to-5 percent growth in the number of annual visitors. While short-term construction and engineering jobs come with the line’s upgrades and related construction, that growth in visitors creates potential for a larger, more durable ripple, especially in the restaurant and hospitality industries.
Now, rail fans in the New River Valley and Bristol metropolitan areas hope to bring those benefits to their localities, too.
Read my story about their efforts at Roanoke Business.
Southwest Virginians know too well the downsides of globalization when it comes to manufacturing jobs.
For decades, they have watched long-running textile and furniture manufacturers shutter factories as their owners moved their operations to new locations with lower labor costs.
The 21st century, however, has seen a resurgence of manufacturing in western Virginia. New facilities and expansions of existing factories drive the region’s recovery from the Great Recession. In a twist, it’s largely foreign-owned companies driving this new wave of manufacturing as they look to establish footholds in the U.S. and tap into domestic markets.
From 2009 through 2015, the Roanoke region saw a 7.7 percent growth in employment within the manufacturing sector, more than twice the total non-farm employment change of 3.1 percent.
Read more about how manufacturing brought western Virginia out of the recession in Roanoke Business.
There’s been lots of talk about transitioning the economies of Appalachian communities from their historic base into the 21st Century. But what does that actually look like?
I’d suggest the Roanoke Valley as a possible example of economic transition. The railroad—which jumpstarted Roanoke as the city in 1880s—no longer is a big economic driver, but we’re seeing a cascading series of companies coming in to fill the void: Large production breweries, advanced manufacturing & more. Better partnerships between regional entities—think Carilion & Virginia Tech for one example—are generating new activity as well.
Clearly not all that success has translated equally to residents across town, but it does look like progress from the big-picture perspective. Certainly people seem more stoked to live in Roanoke now than they did a decade ago.
For more about what this transition looks like in 2016 Roanoke, read my regional profile in Virginia Business.
The May 2016 election marked the end of an era in Roanoke politics, and the start of something new.
I wrote about the election for Blue Ridge Outdoors within the context of Roanoke’s transformation over the last couple of decades, from a deteriorating industrial center into the next great outdoors city.
Read “Roanoke Reinvented” in Blue Ridge Outdoors.
Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery was searching for site for its East Coast production facility when something unusual happened: News of the search leaked out.
The leak generated an aggressive grassroots campaign in Roanoke to win Deschutes, which was considered more likely to locate a few hours south in Asheville, N.C., the multi-time Beer City U.S.A. A social media campaign was just one element of the Star City’s attempt to woo Deschutes.
For All About Beer, I wrote about the behind-the-scenes operation to win Deschutes, not just with infrastructure and a public push, but with intangibles like an illuminated dancer and the historic concerts of a historic jam band.
Read the story at All About Beer.
The combination of competition from cheap natural gas, a decline in overseas construction and enforcement of federal clean air regulations have sent the U.S. coal industry into a tailspin.
It’s not just miners who are suffering, however, but also the various downstream businesses that support the coal industry. For Roanoke Business, I wrote about how railroads, equipment manufacturers and other support businesses are dealing with the slump.
Read the story in the April issue of Roanoke Business.