Last updated: January 09. 2014 5:01PM -
By - nsizemore@civitasmedia.com

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Hoping to revitalize distressed areas across the nation, President Barak Obama recently announced the first five Promise Zones in his initiative, including an an eight-county area of southeastern Kentucky, San Antonio, Texas., Philadelphia, Pa., Los Angeles, Calif., and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Commenting on the designation, Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop said this is a “wonderful opportunity” for the counties chosen in southeastern Kentucky, one of which includes Harlan County.

The Promise Zone Initiative was first announced during last year’s State of the Union Address by the president. The White House said this initiative will provide a way for those in the Promise Zone to partner with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand access to educational opportunities and quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.

This designation will not include a big pot of new federal money, but it will give the counties priority for funding through existing programs and special help from federal officials in applying for money and coordinating efforts to fight poverty according to the White House.

The southeastern Kentucky counties included in the Promise Zone are: Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Perry and Whitley.

“We need every inch that we can get to rebuild our county,” said Grieshop. “This program will give us incentives for bringing companies in and it will give companies incentives to come in. We’ll have a higher score on activities we wish to implement when it goes to the federal government. So, there’s a lot of ways, and we don’t know all those ways yet, that we can benefit from this.”

Grieshop agreed with Gov. Steve Beshear who recently said, “If you put this with the SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) program it gives us one more opportunity to bring employment to our county.”

“We’re quite devastated now with the coal industry going down like it has so quickly,” said Grieshop. “Two years ago the county was doing quite well, and today we’re all wondering if we’re still going to be employed even in the positions that are not directly coal related. Our county will lose population as we lose the coal jobs. This designation is welcome news for Harlan County, and I want to thank Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, of London, for taking the lead on this. This will help our eight counties come together and work as a team in bringing employment to our area.”

Grieshop continued by saying while this is welcome news, “the main body of work has to come from the citizens in eastern Kentucky — these eight counties who are part of the Promise Zone.”

“We can’t have the federal and state government pull us out of this alone. We must participate — we must work together — we must become united in an effort to improve our opportunities for employment for our citizens,” said Grieshop. “If we don’t come together and work as a unified group on these issues, they will not happen and that’s the bottom line.”

Reach Nola Sizemore at 606-573-4510, ext. 115, nsizemore@civitasmedia.com

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