EKU among Partners for Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone Initiative

Eastern Kentucky University is among three higher education partners for the Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone initiative announced recently by the White House.

According to the White House, key strategies involving EKU, the University of Kentucky, Berea College and the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation and other local governmental units and agencies include:

·         the implementation of a sustainable economic development effort across eight counties, focused on diversifying southeastern Kentucky’s economy to make it more resilient.

·         the creation of jobs and growth of small businesses by leveraging $1.3 million of private-sector funds in a revolving loan fund targeted within the Promise Zone.

·         the creation of leadership and entrepreneur training for youth and industry-specific re-training opportunities for the local skilled workforce, through the University of Kentucky Economic Development Initiative, the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, and the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation.

·         evidence-based college and career readiness programs for high school students, administered by Berea College, and the expansion by EKU of technical education programs.

Ian Mooers, executive director of the Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CEDET) and director of the Center for Appalachian Regional Engagement and Stewardship (CARES), both based at EKU, said the University “is proud to be a partner of the Promise Zone initiative. Through our CEDET/CARES program, we will be working along with other partners in the eight-county region to assist businesses with export and entrepreneurial training; continue our efforts with the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Awards, including the Collegiate Business Concept Challenge; offer priority points for Promise Zone Counties applying for the CARES community grants; expand our partnership with the Perry County Health and Wellness Coalition; and grow our existing Coal Country Beeworks educational programming for elementary and middle school students in the Promise Zone region. This initiative is just getting started, and there are many more resources at EKU that can be directed to aid these communities.”

Kentucky’s Promise Zone includes Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry and Whitley counties. The eight counties, with a combined population of under 200,000, have a poverty rate of more than 30 percent.

Mooers called the Promise Zone designation “a tremendous opportunity for the communities in the region to leverage federal program dollars and private investment to move the economy forward (and) represents a focused approach to economic development in a defined region … that is really suffering from job loss and rampant poverty. EKU is very committed to growing our region economically and increasing our regional stewardship efforts, and we are looking forward to working with our partners in the Promise Zone to move the region forward.”

The Southeastern Kentucky Promise Zone is one of five such zones nationwide recently announced by the White House, which plans to announce 15 additional zones over the next three years.

EKU President Michael Benson is among 41 leaders from education, government and business heading a comprehensive and bipartisan effort entitled Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and participated in the highly successful inaugural SOAR Summit last December in Pikeville. The initiative is aimed at helping Kentucky’s Appalachian Region move forward in the face of continued declines in the coal industry.

“Tens of thousands of people out there need our help,” Benson said last fall. “It falls upon us … to be a leader. We can make a difference in this part of the Commonwealth.”

Published on January 31, 2014