HAZARD – Ensuring that rural communities have the capital to invest in their own future will be a key component in Eastern Kentucky’s development, and officials with the Appalachian Regional Commission are banking on four grants totaling more than $1 million helping to do just that.
Representatives with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) were in the region this week to announce the grants to four organizations that will support Kentucky’s statewide philanthropy initiative, including more than $100,000 to the community foundation here in Perry County.
A 2010 study conducted by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship estimated that rural development in Kentucky could be bolstered greatly with the capture of only a small percentage of transferrable wealth in the next decade. A piece of legislation signed into law last year – called the Endow Kentucky bill – created an avenue to attract some of that money to be used for rural philanthropy by offering incentives to individuals who donate to philanthropic agencies like community foundations.
The ARC grants announced on Monday will serve to support Endow Kentucky by helping other community foundations build a capacity to comply with the Endow Kentucky initiative, noted Earl Gohl, federal co-chair for ARC.
“The whole idea is to make sure that Endow Kentucky reaches Eastern Kentucky, and that it works in places like Hazard and places like Somerset,” Gohl said Monday following a tour of the Challenger Learning Center in Hazard. “Our hope and our goal is to get community foundations to the point where they are able to thrive, prosper and reinvest in places like Hazard.”
Gohl said ARC’s mission is to work with communities in Appalachia to create jobs and develop opportunity, and one way to do that will be ensuring that organizations like the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County have the means to encourage local communities to set their own goals.
“The idea of community philanthropy and the community foundation is to raise community capital so that local communities can get together and decide what their priorities are and make investments,” Gohl continued.
It will take these kinds of investments and more to stem the tide of an ongoing trend in Eastern Kentucky, namely the continued depopulation of the region, noted Doug O’ Brien, deputy under secretary for the rural development division of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
According to recent projections from the Kentucky State Data Center, Perry County will lose a quarter of its population over the next four decades, largely due to an aging population and an outmigration of younger generations. Other counties in the region are facing similar projections. To help entice Eastern Kentucky’s younger generation to stay, it will be important to ensure that job creators such as small businesses have the means to access capital when it’s needed, O’Brien explained.
“So many places in rural America, and I think this part of Kentucky is a good example of it, but the last few decades a lot of people have left,” he said. “There is still a lot of economic activity that happens here, there’s a lot of wealth here, but as the generations transfer their wealth, a lot of those people don’t live here anymore. To capture that wealth before it goes out to the metropolitan areas, there needs to be that capacity of community local foundations.”
And in a recessive economy, Gohl added, access to those types are funds are an important part of enabling rural Kentucky to move forward rather that face continued stagnation.
“The reality is that domestic expenditures from the federal government are not going to be going up, they’re going to be going down over the next several years,” Gohl said. “So that’s why it’s so important for community foundations to get together and build the capital using Endow Kentucky as a way of raising resources and raising capital to invest.”