Last November, voters in Kentucky expressed confidence that President Trump could deliver on his promise to revive the coal industry, and he carried the state with 62 percent of votes.
But in the heart of Appalachia, there’s a strong network of businesses and nonprofits that are looking beyond coal, and embracing equity-focused regional economic development for marginalized communities — creating employment opportunities in technology and innovation, and arts and culture, as even more promising growth industries for the region.
In rural Letcher County, Kentucky — population 23,000 — just 12 percent of adults age 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree, and 33 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level.
But Letcher County is also home to creative entrepreneurs and artists working to cultivate a more equitable economy. “We’re thinking about ways to move forward in a post-coal economy,” said Jeremy McQueen, CEO and co-founder of Mountain Tech Media, which provides technology and digital design services out of its base in Whitesburg.
“Companies like ours are really offering solutions for workers and communities that used to rely on coal to be able to participate in an economy that’s thriving…”