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Economic development grants selected

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(The Center Square) — The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and Gov. Glenn Youngkin has chosen 16 projects to support with this year’s Appalachian Regional Commission grant funding of $7.3 million.

The Appalachian Regional Commission was established in 1965 to boost economic development in an impoverished area of the country. Through the commission, federal, state and local governments work together to identify projects for funding to “transform Appalachian communities, create jobs and strengthen the regional economy.” Virginia’s ARC region includes 25 counties and eight independent cities in Southwest Virginia.

This year’s ARC dollars go toward various projects that develop community infrastructure, beautify an area or invest in the arts.

ARC funding between this year and last will have contributed close to $6.8 million to improvements to waterlines, water systems and wastewater treatment services; at least $3.8 million to restoration and recreation projects; $1.4 million on broadband expansion; and over $1 million to economic development authorities and spaces.

The Center Square spoke to Derrick Max from the commonwealth’s Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy and John Mozena of The Center for Economic Accountability about the proposed 2023 ARC endeavors.

“From an economic development perspective, some of these grants seem to make a certain amount of sense,” Mozena said. “Others, less so. For instance, we know that basic infrastructure quality is a critical issue for business site selectors, so something like the wastewater treatment plant or water line replacement projects have the potential to pay economic as well as public health dividends down the road.”

Max had a similar perspective.

“I’m sure every one of those projects has merit and worth. What I would question is, is this the most effective way to help people in Appalachia?” Max said.

Max noted that when the program started in the sixties, Appalachia was in a much worse position than it is today. But he’s skeptical of what was “originally designed as an aid program, but now is also an arts program and an infrastructure program and an education program.”

“It seems like an ineffective and inefficient way to aid this region when the reason for such a program has changed dramatically over the years, yet the program has stayed the same,” Max said.

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