President Obama announced yesterday that Southeastern Kentucky will be one of the first five Promise Zones in the nation. The other four Promise Zones are Philadelphia, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The new program is a collaborative, cooperative program to fast track assistance and cut through red tape for five of the most distressed areas in the United States.
In Southeastern Kentucky, some key strategies include:
o Implementing a sustainable economic effort across eight counties in the Kentucky Highlands region, focused on diversifying Southeastern Kentucky’s economy to make it more resilient.
o Creating jobs and growing small businesses by leveraging $1.3 million of private sector funds in a revolving loan fund targeted within the Promise Zone.
o Creating leadership and entrepreneur training for youth and industry-specific re-training opportunities for local skilled workforce, through the University of Kentucky Economic Development Initiative, the East Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, and the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation.
o In order to ensure all youth have access to a high-quality education Berea College will run evidence-based college and career readiness programs for high school students in the Zone, while Eastern Kentucky University will expand technical education programs.
According to a White House press release, "The five Promise Zones announced today are part of the 20 that will be announced over the next three years. These unique partnerships support local goals and strategies with:
o Accountability for Clear Goals: Each Promise Zone has identified clear outcomes they will pursue to revitalize their community, with a focus on creating jobs, increasing economic activity, improving educational opportunities, increasingaccess to quality, affordable housing and reducing violent crime. All Promise Zones will continuously track those outcomes, and have committed to sharing data across their community partners (private-sector, non-profits, federal, state, and local agencies, etc.) so that each partner can work towards improvement and accountability. The Administration will work with the Promise Zones and third party experts to track progress and evaluate results.
o Intensive Federal Partnership: Modeled after the Administration’s successful Strong Cities Strong Communities and Strike Force for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiatives, which have created unique partnerships between local stakeholders and the federal government, these first five Promise Zones will benefit from intensive federal support at the local level to help them implement their economic and community development goals.
o Help Accessing Resources: Where necessary to achieve their goals, Promise Zones will get priority and be able to access federal investments that further the goals of job creation, additional private investment, increased economic activity, improved educational opportunity, and reduction in violent crime.
o National Service: Each Promise Zone will be provided five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to support their strategic plan. These VISTAs will recruit and manage volunteers, and strengthen the capacity of Promise Zones to expand economic opportunity.
o Investing in What Works: In order to be designated as a Promise Zone, these five communities have already demonstrated that they are pursuing strategies that have data proving their effectiveness. This same data will also help direct future federal investments to these Zones.
o Cutting Taxes for Businesses: Finally, President Obama has proposed, and called on Congress to act, to cut taxes on hiring and investment in areas designated as Promise Zones – based upon the proven model of Empowerment Zones tax credits – to attract businesses and create jobs."
The eight counties in the Promise Zone are Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry and Whitley.