WASHINGTON—Reconnecting McDowell has won a National Association of Counties competition to attend a three-day workshop to help communities struggling with coal-related economic challenges develop strategies that will strengthen and diversify their economies.
Reconnecting McDowell is a public-private partnership working to reinvigorate McDowell County, W.Va., among the nation’s communities hardest hit following the downturn of the coal industry.
The teams attending the three-day Innovation Challenge workshops in Pikeville, Ky., in late April will receive intensive hands-on training to help them implement strategies concerning economic diversification, asset-based development, workforce training, broadband, recreation and tourism, the healthcare sector and entrepreneurship.
“For students to succeed, we must pay attention to what happens outside the four walls of the schoolhouse, not just what happens inside. This is a fantastic opportunity to help crack the code on how to bring economic development and jobs to McDowell County,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which spearheaded Reconnecting McDowell. “This county had been totally dependent on the coal industry but has suffered devastating socio-economic consequences since the industry crashed decades ago. For sustained improvement, we need to figure out ways to bring good jobs and the middle class back to McDowell.”
Gayle Manchin, Reconnecting McDowell’s chair, agreed that economic development has been the partnership’s most difficult challenge but noted various accomplishments on other fronts. “The planned Renaissance Village housing project in McDowell will bridge economic development and the much-needed recruitment and retention of teachers,” Manchin said. “Through Reconnecting McDowell, there’s broadband access in the county; we’re developing community schools with wraparound services; teachers are getting more professional development to improve instruction; and we’re providing more supports for children and families, including a new program to bring dental services to students.”
The National Association of Counties and the National Association of Development Organizations Research Foundation, with support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, are sponsoring the workshops.