With 52 of 67 Pennsylvania counties calling Appalachia home, the state is no stranger to the rich geography of the region filled with stunning mountain views, rivers and streams, and wildlife. It’s home to tremendous cultural and historical resources and 5.6 million Pennsylvanians who live, work and play in our commonwealth.
Pennsylvania’s Appalachian region also reflects the sense of economic resiliency that is evident in our efforts over the past 50 years to partner with the Appalachian Regional Commission to battle the impacts of poverty, unemployment, and low per capita income in many of our most vulnerable communities.
In Pennsylvania, we have one of the largest rural populations in the nation, so we know that a vibrant rural community is a place of opportunity — and we know that that we must work cooperatively to address issues that span political boundaries to enhance the quality of life. We need to offer both young and mature workers the education necessary to gain the skills needed to access family-sustaining jobs, and we need to invest in infrastructure and our communities to sustain growth and entrepreneurial development.
The Wolf Administration recognizes the need for strategic investments in the state’s Appalachian counties, where a dynamic and growing economy can offer opportunities and help strengthen individuals and communities. However, we also understand that the region is vulnerable as states throughout the nation are working overtime to meet the demands of the technology-driven times. Our collaborative efforts with ARC are critical in supporting Appalachian Pennsylvania to position itself to be a full, invested partner in the changing world economy.
These investments have long-been a top priority for my administration, yet one of the major limitations the region faces was exacerbated last year during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be highlighted as a national issue for rural communities — broadband limitations, also known as the “digital divide.” Investments into Appalachian Pennsylvania would help level the playing field for internet access, one of the most critical infrastructure needs of our time. Whether for work, education or leisure, having broadband access is a necessity, everywhere.
Our partnership with ARC also helps us address other high-priority issues such as the needs of our coal-impacted communities and combatting substance use disorder within our 52 Appalachian counties. Together, we have taken major strides in advancing our goals to develop economic opportunities, ready the state’s workforce, invest in critical infrastructure upgrades and healthcare networks that support substance abuse recovery professionals, utilize cultural and natural assets, support recovery-focused job training programs, and promote leadership and community capacity for Appalachian communities. In fiscal year 2020, we backed 65 projects totaling nearly $23 million in investments — creating or retaining nearly 11,600 jobs and training and educating more than 3,200 students and workers.
While the partnership established by Pennsylvania and ARC has proved invaluable in supporting the Appalachian region, there is still more work to be done — but we know that our best days are ahead. My administration remains committed to a thriving Pennsylvania with schools that teach, jobs that pay, and government that works — and to providing Appalachian citizens and communities with the resources needed to promote self-sustaining economic development.