LONDON — According to a recently published Lane Report article, the Kentucky Highlands Promise Zone has set a record for announced investments. The article also outlines projects Kentucky Highlands highlighted as the top 10 for funding that was approved in 2016.
By now, people in the Hazard area should be familiar with the term Promise Zone. In 2014, hundreds of millions of dollars suddenly became available to help fund community and economic development projects in eight Southeastern Kentucky counties, one of which is Perry County. The federal government launched the Promise Zone initiative after pinpointing the five most economically troubled areas in the United States. The Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone was the first to be established.
Trusted institutions were designated by the federal government in each zone to oversee the initiative. Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation was selected in the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone, which is made up of Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and part of Whitley counties.
Local leaders are well aware of the opportunities Promise Zone funds can create. In March of 2016, Promise Zone Coordinator Sandi Curd held a public meeting at the Perry County Courthouse to encourage the community to get involved in securing Promise Zone cash. At that meeting, Curd estimated more than $228 million would be allocated for the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone over the course of five to seven years. Perry County Judge Executive Scott Alexander attended the meeting and, in an interview with WYMT from March 3, 2016, Alexander said,
“It’s kind of like in a basketball game. If we start off five points ahead, it gives us bonus points on any grant that we go after.”
This was not the first time Alexander stressed the importance of securing Promise Zone money. At a political forum organized by InVision Hazard, during his 2014 campaign for office, Alexander criticized his opponent, former Judge Executive Denny Ray Noble, for not securing Promise Zone funds like surrounding counties had.
Promise Zone support is not guaranteed to any of the qualifying counties. Instead, it must be secured. Districts within the Promise Zone are challenged to harvest ideas for projects that will help the people in their areas prosper, and then present those ideas to Promise Zone officials for review. Projects that are considered solid receive funds. Those that are considered weak do not.
So, in essence, any qualifying county could receive all of the Promise Zone money, or a percentage of the money, or none at all. It depends on how many appealing projects the county presents and how well those presentations stack-up against the presentations of competing counties.
Three years into the initiative, the Lane Report says more than $453 million has been released to qualifying counties in the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone, and Kentucky Highlands has set the record for most investments announced. According to the Lane Report, Kentucky Highlands issued a top 10 list of highlighted projects for the $220 million in commitments that were made during 2016. This is the list:
1. Promise Neighborhood Grant: Berea College will receive $30 million as one of only six Promise Neighborhood grant recipients in the country. This cradle-to-career initiative will fund work in three school districts in Knox County that will reach 25 schools and more than 10,000 students to improve the educational achievement and healthy development of children.
2. Appalachian Wildlife Center: A $12.5 million grant from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement will help develop the Appalachian Wildlife Center in Bell County. It is expected to attract 638,000 visitors annually by the fifth year of operation and generate more than $1 billion in regional economic activity in the first 10 years.
3. Euro Sticks: Euro Sticks Group, a French manufacturer of ice cream and coffee stir sticks, selected Corbin as its presence in North America. It will create 90 jobs and invest $15 million.
4. Harlan Wood Products: Harlan County Industrial Development Authority received a $2.52 million grant for an alternative energy manufacturing center. Announced by Gov. Matt Bevin and Congressman Hal Rogers, the funds will be used to leverage an additional $10.5 million in private investment from Harlan Wood Products to create 30 to 35 new jobs and approximately 60 new indirect jobs.
5. Final Mile: Promise Zone communities have been collaborating and planning for ways to extend the KyWired middle-mile dark-fiber system into downtown areas, industrial parks and centers of commerce. This local “final-mile” system is critical for providing high-speed, high capacity Internet access.
6. Pineville Community Hospital: A USDA loan, along with strong partnerships among Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, First State Financial and Pineville Community Hospital, have saved more than 300 jobs and created 12 new jobs at the hospital.
7. Uplift America Fund: The fund has awarded $50 million to Fahe and $25 million to KHIC to be used as loans for community facility projects. It leverages federal low-interest loans, bank financing and private grants to target much-needed capital to persistently low-wealth areas, including the Promise Zone.
8. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camp: The University of Louisville and Partners for Education at Berea College helped 27 Promise Zone high school students attend a free summer camp at the Speed School of Engineering’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research.
9. Telemedicine: The federal Health Resources and Services Administration awarded Baptist Health Foundation Corbin, Inc. a $1.2 million grant for expanding its telehealth network with infrastructure and personnel.
10. Faith-Based Convening: More than 200 people attended the first faith-based economic development summit “Jobs Wanted: Faithful Investing in Appalachia’s People.” The Kentucky Highlands Promise Zone and SOAR held the event.
These are not the only projects the Promise Zone will help fund. These projects are the top 10 Kentucky Highlands highlighted in regards to funding that was approved in 2016, according to the Lane Report article. The article, along with more information about the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone, can be found at kypromisezone.com.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.