Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was elected to be the 2020 state co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, giving him a national platform to improve the region.
DeWine, a Republican, was chosen to work with Tim Thomas, the federal co-chair, by the governors of the 13 states that compose the Appalachian Regional Commission, or ARC. A new state co-chair is chosen every year, and the position alternates between Republican and Democratic governors.
“Working together, we can make strategic investments to increase innovation and entrepreneurship, build the workforce, and grow tourism in each state,“ DeWine said in a press release. “By sharing our best practices and expanding our partnerships with local leaders, we can make a difference across the Appalachian Region.”
Dan Tierney, the governor’s press secretary, said DeWine is glad to have been elected co-chair and wants to use the position to promote the region and address its needs.
“It gives us a chance to focus on these issues: unique economic development issues; the work the state is doing on promoting broadband expansion; a lot of the health, safety and welfare issues that we’ve been working on throughout the state,” Tierney said.
The ARC is a federal-state partnership tasked with expanding economic opportunities in the Appalachian region, which includes 420 counties in Ohio, New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.
For Ohio, that includes 32 counties primarily in the Southeastern region of the state with a population of about 2 million people.
Wendy Wasserman, communications director of ARC, said DeWine’s appointment is a way for there to be a heightened awareness of what is being done in Appalachian Ohio. While his term will only last for a year, she said DeWine will have ample opportunity to influence economic development across the state and region.
“I think sometimes the region gets a bad rap because it tends to have a narrative that it is poor and helpless,” Wasserman said. “I think the stuff that we invest in belies that.”
According to an ARC press release from Jan. 8, the commission is set to have a record budget of $175 million for the fiscal year. The way that money will be spread out between counties is determined by how the ARC rates their economic statuses.
Wasserman said about $70 to $75 million is distributed among the states through that formula, and the rest of the money is guided by Congress for investments in coal-impacted communities, broadband and aviation manufacturing amongst other ways.
Last year, the commission spent about $12 million on the state of Ohio alone, according to an ARC press release. That investment was matched by over $35.3 million and an additional $9 million from private investments.
Athens County has been ranked as either an at-risk or distressed county annually on the agency’s yearly rankings. Athens always sits on the edge of those two rankings, but was labelled as an at-risk county in the ARC’s 2019 fiscal year.
Wasserman said the ARC is always hopeful the region is improving, and they have been optimistic for decades.
“Everything you would want under the sun is in Appalachia and folks just have to find it,” Wasserman said.