Sunday Business Page: Appalachian Regional Commission

KDKA's Jon Delano spoke with Gayle Manchin, the newly sworn-in Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, about economic development in the region.

Video Transcript

- This is "The Sunday Business Page" with Jon Delano.

JON DELANO: Good morning. I'm Jon Delano. Welcome to another home edition of "The Sunday Business Page."

And our very special guest today is Gayle Connolly Manchin, the brand-new co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Madam Chair, thank you so much for being with us today. I do appreciate it.

GAYLE MANCHIN: Well, it's great to be with you, joining you there in Pittsburgh, Jon. Thank you.

JON DELANO: So, let me ask you, for the benefit of our viewers, what exactly is the Appalachian Regional Commission?

GAYLE MANCHIN: Well the Appalachian Regional Commission is a group of 13 states, starting with Southern New York, going down to Mississippi, that covers the most rural areas, the highest level of poverty, loss of economic development. And so, the ARC was created to provide grants and stimulus to those areas to rebuild their economy.

JON DELANO: And Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania is part of this. I believe 52 of our 67 counties in Pennsylvania-- most of the state-- is considered part of the Appalachian region. Is that right?

GAYLE MANCHIN: Yes it is. All of the area that kind of follows that Appalachian Mountain breakdown range right down through the east there. But those counties that-- for example, in West Virginia and in Kentucky-- those counties that have been most affected by the loss of coal, steel mills, the coal mining. And so power grants that were federally created to stimulate those areas, specifically.

So that the other states are not even eligible for those grants. And Pennsylvania last year competitively won more than the other states for those power grants to put misplaced workers and help create economic development in these communities that have sort of died because of the loss of coal energy.

JON DELANO: My understanding is that Pennsylvania actually has 65 projects right now from the ARC totaling just under $23 million. I wanted to ask you about some of those. One of the big issues that I know in this region and around the state, particularly in rural areas, is the lack of good high-speed broadband. And I understand that's one of your personal interests as well. Can you talk about that?

GAYLE MANCHIN: Yes. Oh, it's critical. Jon, we found out this last year with COVID and children going to school virtually, how inept our system was in many parts of our state. And we have to level that playing field so that all children have the same opportunities for virtual learning, for exploring, just for having the access to the internet and the world that broadband gives you.

So it's a high priority of ARC, certainly, as we work with President Biden on his infrastructure plan, and how this moneys that are going into these counties and communities, how ARC can be a good partner in helping them to strategize on projects that we can help them design and create, and also put money into as well.

So it's a team effort. But broadband is certainly a critical need through all of our rural America and certainly through the Appalachian region.

JON DELANO: I was noting on some of your charts that this region, including southwestern Pennsylvania-- what characterizes this area throughout is higher poverty, lower income, and fewer college degrees. Is there anything that your commission can do about any of that?

GAYLE MANCHIN: Oh, we can affect all of it. Certainly school grants. We are always working to streamline the process of students graduating from high school and going into either career-tech learning centers, community colleges. But getting them the skill sets immediately that can get them a good-paying quality job in the area in which they live.

You know, people that live in rural America live there because they love their land and they love the people. And so we're trying to make sure that families today can stay living in these counties, living in these areas, with a well-educated workforce that can stimulate the economy of our communities and bring them back, and give people the quality of life that they deserve.

JON DELANO: Well, Gayle Connolly Manchin, the brand-new federal co-chair, appointed by President Biden, of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Thank you so much for spending time with us today. I really do appreciate it.

GAYLE MANCHIN: Well, thank you for including me, and we'd love to come back any time.

JON DELANO: And you know we're going to have you back. You can count on it, so.

And thank you for watching this edition of "The Sunday Business Page." Have a great Sunday everybody.