When most of us think of the Appalachian region, we probably conjure up images of mountains and coal, which has been mined in the region for over a century.
However, coal has been battling fierce competitors lately due to declining reserves of the substance, cheap natural gas alternatives and fewer available jobs because of machines, making it no longer the mega industry it once was. Take Boone County, West Virginia, for instance. Since the end of 2011, 40 percent of its coal jobs have been lost. And this is not an isolated occurrence as other Appalachian counties are experiencing the same phenomenon.
With all of these changes, the region needs to look forward to a life not dependent on coal. Enter the Appalachian Transition Fellowship — a group of young adults working to create a new future for the region.
Started by the Highlander Center, which operates as a social movement training center, the Fellowship’s purpose is to act as mentors for 14 young fellows who will be working on economic development projects for a full year in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.
The ultimate goal of the program is to ease and hasten the transition from dependency on the coal industry to a more diverse economy consisting of other industries that can be supported by the region’s assets.
This year is the inaugural year of the program, which runs from June 2, 2014 until May 2015. While fellows don’t have to be from the Appalachian region, they must be familiar with the region. (Click here to meet a few of them.)
Armed with creativity and innovation, these young fellows are looking to dig the tunnel to a better future for the Appalachian region. It’s all in a day’s work, so hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work they go.