HAZARD — Promise Zone is a term people in Southeast Kentucky have been hearing frequently since 2014, when the Promise Zone initiative was first placed into motion. Five separate regions in the United States received Promise Zone designations from the federal government because of poor economic conditions and bleak outlooks for economic stimulation in the near future. Eight counties in Southeast Kentucky make up one of the Promise Zones, with one of those counties being Perry County.
Money is the basic element of the Promise Zone. Each county qualifies for major assistance, but designated districts only have seven years remaining to figure out what to do with the available funding before the Promise Zone designation expires.
In order to help counties understand how the Promise Zone is intended to work and develop a strategic plan for funding, coordinators have been appointed to act as consultants to counties that qualify for Promise Zone cash, which equals $228 million dollars that is estimated to pour into Southeast Kentucky throughout what remains of the Promise Zone qualification.
On March 3, Promise Zone Coordinator Sandi Curd visited the Perry County Courthouse to discuss Promise Zone funding with all interested groups and individuals. According to Curd, community planning is a key element to taking advantage of Promise Zone funding because the entire process is kind of like a competition. Those with the best ideas receive the most funding.
Perry County Judge Executive Scott Alexander was at the meeting, along with several citizens representing groups with great interest in stimulating economic development. Alexander has spoke throughout his term of using grants as a method of offsetting diminishing coal severance funds, and grant support, according to Curd is a major element of the Promise Zone’s vision. Curd says nearly 200 letters of support for grants have been written for Southeast Kentucky over the past two years with the Promise Zone. Alexander’s role could be key in determining whether or not Promise Zone funding is effective for Perry County because as judge executive, he will oversee projects that could qualify for Promise Zone money, and with only seven years to do all the work necessary, proper securing and spending of those funds can make or break the overall goal of creating a better economy in Perry County. According to experts, the money first has to be secured, then it has to be spent wisely or else the plan will fail, and the likelihood of another surge of funding as heavy as what the Promise Zone provides will be very unlikely.
Throughout what remains of Perry County’s Promise Zone tenure, consultants will continue to work closely on proposals for Promise Zone assistance. As of March 3, the message is that all qualifying districts need to get busy because the clock is ticking and the competition is fierce.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.