With a low cost and high quality of living, it’s no surprise that more than 1.7 million North Carolinians call the Appalachia home. The 29 North Carolina counties that are a part of it offer great opportunities to families living in the region — welcoming communities, a strong small business environment and an abundance of outdoor activities and natural resources. But they also face unique challenges. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is dedicated to addressing Appalachia’s challenges and boosting its strengths so these rural communities can thrive.
As the former ARC Co-Chair, I’ve seen firsthand how this bipartisan coalition among governors and the federal government has worked together to improve people’s lives in all 13 states that make up this region. I am proud of the investments that the Commission has made in our communities, and as our country moves past the pandemic toward its next chapter, it’s as important as ever that we continue our collaborative efforts to support the people of Appalachia.
As more businesses choose to grow in North Carolina each week, it’s clear that our state is emerging from this pandemic even stronger than before. As Governor, one of my top priorities has been to provide North Carolinians the quality education and training they need to succeed in the jobs of today and tomorrow.
In 2018, I launched the NC Job Ready initiative that connects people with employers to give them a taste of the careers they can pursue in their communities. As part of that initiative, our ARC team working in North Carolina has collaborated with local organizations to increase the knowledge and skills of North Carolina’s Appalachian residents, including teaching middle and high school students about the exciting job opportunities waiting for them in science, technology, engineering and advanced manufacturing fields across Western North Carolina.
When we invest in our workforce development pipeline, everybody succeeds. Students enter the workforce with the skills they need to pursue good-paying, fulfilling jobs, and business owners — both homegrown and new — can be confident that our rural communities have the strong workforce they need to build a future here.
Getting people ready for jobs isn’t just good for our economy — it benefits the health of our communities. With the opioid crisis hurting our rural areas, one of my main focuses as the 2019 ARC Co-Chair was working with communities on how to reduce overdoses and substance use.
But to ensure that everyone can get the resources they need to get a job, learn, start a business and stay healthy, we need to expand high-speed internet access into every home and school. This pandemic has highlighted what many of us already knew — the internet is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.
Our state agencies have worked with the ARC to provide grants that identify the gaps, challenges and opportunities in Western North Carolina’s broadband infrastructure. Hometown Strong, our initiative dedicated to strengthening our rural communities, and our Department of Information Technology are working every day to find ways to make it easier to access and use high-speed internet so North Carolinians in our rural counties can fully participate in our increasingly digital society. One example of their partnership with ARC is the development of a robust digital inclusion program to ensure that workers, vulnerable populations and disadvantaged groups in North Carolina’s ARC region of Macon, Madison and Mitchell counties have access to healthcare and economic opportunities.
Through the ARC, Governors are putting partisan differences aside to find practical solutions for Appalachia’s challenges while maintaining the natural and cultural resources that make this region so unique.
By coming together to share ideas and learn from each other, we can make our Appalachian communities stronger, healthier and more equitable for everybody.
Roy Cooper is the governor of North Carolina and a former ARC chair.