Broadband to Revitalize Appalachian Coal Country


WASHINGTON, DC, August 25, 2016 (ENS) – Ten communities in six states have been selected by the Obama Administration to participate in the Cool & Connected planning assistance program, a new initiative to help people use broadband service for downtown revitalization and economic development.

“Cool & Connected will help create vibrant, thriving places to live, work, and play,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. “We’re excited to be working with these local leaders and use broadband service as a creative strategy to improve the environment and public health in Appalachian communities.”

Bluefield, West Virginia is built atop a major coal deposit. (Photo by Dizzy Girl)

The 10 communities were chosen for this program by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Appalachian Regional Commission. A new round of applications will be accepted in September.

Through Cool & Connected, partner communities will receive direct technical assistance from a team of experts to develop strategies and an action plan for using expected or existing broadband service to create connected, economically vibrant main streets and small-town neighborhoods.

By combining broadband service with other local assets, such as cultural and recreational amenities, communities can attract and retain investment and people, revitalize downtowns and diversify local economies.

Cool & Connected encourages the reuse of existing infrastructure and better walkability.  When communities reinvest in established areas, open spaces and farmlands are preserved, protecting air and water quality.

EPA support for Cool & Connected is provided through the Office of Sustainable Communities, which helps communities develop in ways that protect public health and the natural environment by creating walkable, livable, economically vibrant communities, and supporting reinvestment in existing neighborhoods.

USDA support is provided by the Rural Utilities Service, which provides funding for critical infrastructure including electricity generation and transmission, water and waste water facilities and telecommunications for rural America.

The Appalachian Regional Commission support is through the Obama Administration’s Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative (POWER), a multi-agency effort to invest federal resources in communities and regions that have relied on the coal industry and are impacted by the changing energy landscape.

Cool & Connected Partner Communities:

• Haleyville, Alabama: To pursue a downtown broadband strategy that promotes business recruitment and development, diversifies the economy, and connects the library and City Hall to people through digital archives and e-government initiatives.

• Portsmouth, Ohio: To help the Southern Ohio Port Authority use their historic and commercial districts’ broadband and public Wi-Fi capabilities to increase the number of people who walk and open businesses. The plan will also connect downtown amenities to recreation areas by using information kiosks and QR Code/smart phone technology.

• Zanesville, Ohio: To increase new employment opportunities, support an emerging arts scene, and develop an app for visitors to explore their walkable downtown.

• Clarion, Pennsylvania: To increase their local communications capacity to market nature-based tourism, motivate people to invest along the historic Main Street, and create an incentive for students at Clarion University to stay in the community. In the past, the surrounding area produced natural gas, oil, lumber and coal.

• Curwensville, Pennsylvania: To support the Curwensville Regional Development Corporation in creating a downtown co-working space for professionals, students, or entrepreneurs to use as an alternative to working from home or commuting long distances. Coal mining, tanning, and the manufacture of fire bricks were the industries at the turn of the 20th century.

• Erwin, Tennessee: To help the city and Erwin Utilities develop a comprehensive marketing plan for their downtown broadband connection, with the goal of attracting young professionals, visitors, and investors. Nuclear Fuel Services has a major facility in Erwin that prepares enriched uranium to be processed into nuclear reactor fuel, processes uranium hexafluoride into other uranium compounds, and downblends high-enriched uranium to convert it to a low-enriched form for use in commercial nuclear reactors.

• Jonesville and Pennington Gap, Virginia: To market and develop Wi-Fi zones, extend broadband service, and promote main street development by attracting potential anchor tenants. Like most towns in the central Appalachian region, Jonesville fell into economic decline as the coal boom ebbed at the end of the 20th century.

• Bluefield, West Virginia: To develop a plan for their downtown area to take advantage of the available broadband and market their businesses through the best outlets. The largest and richest deposit of bituminous coal in the world was first mined here in 1890. It helped drive the Industrial Revolution in the United States and fuel the American and British navies during both World Wars.

• Weirton, West Virginia: To help the Mary H. Weir Public Library and community partners develop a plan to increase and expand broadband services and Wi-Fi zones, in order to bring visitors, new families, and businesses to the downtown area. The Weirton Steel Corporation once employed over 12,000 people, the largest private employer and the largest taxpayer in West Virginia. This is no longer true. Today, the Weirton plant, now part of the international giant Arcelor Mittal, operates only the tin-plating section of the mill, with 1,200 workers.

• Williamson, West Virginia: To support the Williamson Health and Wellness Center in leveraging broadband access and Wi-Fi zones downtown and at educational institutions to cultivate a skilled workforce, help people open businesses, and enhance the use of heath care technology. The site of a large rail yard built to service the many coal mines of the region, the local economy is fueled by coal mining, transportation, health care and retail.

These towns are adopting policies that protect rural landscapes and preserve open spaces, resulting in better air and water quality.

Many of the communities want to encourage walking, biking, and public transit to reduce air pollution from vehicles while saving money.

Small towns and rural communities throughout the United States are looking to strengthen their economies and build on local assets.

But many rural communities and small towns are facing serious challenges, such as rapid growth at the edges of cities or declining rural populations, and, steadily, the loss of farms and working lands to development.

Slow-growing or shrinking rural communities might find the prosperity they seek to be elusive, while fast-growing rural areas located at a rural/urban border face development pressures.

Smart growth strategies, such as planning where development should or should not go, can help a rural community encourage growth in town, where businesses can thrive on a walkable main street and families can live close to their daily destinations.


Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2016. All rights reserved.


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