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New research documents economic resilience across Appalachia

Posted: February 6, 2019

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) recently released "Strengthening Economic Resilience in Appalachia," a new study identifying factors common across communities experiencing persistent economic growth in the aftermath of the 2008 Recession and other economic disruptions. Together with West Virginia University, the NERCRD played an instrumental role in developing this report. The research includes a statistical analysis of key factors common to economic resilience. A companion Guidebook for Practitioners offers additional insight that can inform economic development strategies across Appalachia.

“This research highlights what we see every day at ARC—examples of Appalachian communities exhibiting resilience despite significant economic disruptions,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas. “Communities which are thoughtfully investing in community infrastructure, capitalizing on cross-collaboration, and cultivating entrepreneurship are driving the Region’s economic future.”

To quantify economic resilience in the Technical Report (PDF), the research team, which included NERCRD's Stephan Goetz and Yicheol Han, analyzed 35 measures of demographics/mobility; economics/industry; and community/health. With this analysis, each of Appalachia’s 420 counties was given a “resilience score.” From there, researchers conducted further analysis and field interviews to identify commonalities across counties with higher resilience scores. These strategies include:

  • Investing in education, technology, infrastructure, and broadband;
  • Engaging the community over the long-term;
  • Growing youth engagement and next-generation leadership;
  • Identifying and growing the assets in the community and region;
  • Building networks and fostering collaboration;
  • Moving multiple sectors forward for economic development and growing value chains; and,
  • Cultivating entrepreneurs and developing resources for business start-ups.

In the accompanying Guidebook for Practitioners (PDF), case studies from counties in the Region and across the country, offer additional insight into how communities have rebounded from the Recession and other economic disruptions in mining, manufacturing, hospitality, education, transportation or similar industries, and can successfully inform economic development strategies across Appalachia. Case studies include:

  • Fannin, Georgia
  • Flathead, Montana
  • St. Clair, Alabama
  • McCracken, Kentucky
  • Holmes, Ohio
  • Chenango, New York
  • Dickinson, Iowa
  • Lee & Itawamba, Mississippi
  • Harrison, West Virginia
  • McKean, Pennsylvania

Both the Technical Report and the Guidebook are available at www.arc.gov/resilience.

“Our team hopes this study will help practitioners identify ways to make their communities more resilient to economic shocks,” said Fritz Boettner, Principal, Downstream Strategies and project leader for the research. “We explored locations across the country to inform a pragmatic approach to community development aiming towards the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental development. We believe this approach can lead to stronger and more resilient communities in Appalachia.

The research was conducted by Downstream Strategies, Dialogue + Design and Associates, the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, and West Virginia University, on behalf of the Appalachian Regional Commission. Funding was provided via ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America's energy production.


This text was adapted from materials provided by the Appalachian Regional Commission.