68.1% of Pulaski County voters voted for Trump, but, according to the editorial staff of the Roanoke Times, when we look at his recently shared budget proposal, 45 has “an odd way of returning the favor.”
The Roanoke Times staff did a good job covering this betrayal and what it could mean for southwest Virginia more broadly with the elimination of programs like the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) which has spent millions to retrain coal miners and fund efforts to shift the local economy to focus on technology and security. In the past four decades the ARC has funded $4 billion dollars of programs and has leveraged an additional $16 billion in private funding. We thought we’d add a local Pulaski angle so that we all understand what the ARC has done for Pulaski and the central role its funding and ability to leverage additional resources played in our local plans moving forward.
According to John White, Economic Development Director for the Town of Pulaski, “The loss of ARC funding will have a significant impact for Pulaski Town and County.” He said that ARC funds assisted in efforts here to get wireless internet access to the parts of the county that are still unserved – a task that White says continues. (More information on regional internet access here.)
“After the loss of smoke stack industries,” White says, “ARC helped fund planning for a new economic base, the results of which laid the foundation for an emphasis on developing an entrepreneurial culture, small business development, and the work that’s now underway with #Pulaskirising.”
Other small towns in southwest Virginia have used funding from ARC, along with the USDA Rural Development program and the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), to revive their local economies. Towns like Big Stone Gap have used the combination of these public funds, along with significant private investment to begin economic revivals focusing on broad based development plans after the departure of smoke stack industries and mining (See page 8). As discussed in “Budget impact: Community Development Block Grants” these programs can provide funding for planning that is a requirement for local businesses to access low cost financing that make an enormous difference in their success. A good example of the combination funding is a USDA Rural Development/Town of Pulaski revolving loan fund for roof repair. In order to save the historic downtown buildings and retain the value of that unique asset, the Town and USDA have provided $150,000 to help repair roofs. Funding like this would be gone under the new budget, while the Town and local businesses would have to bear the full cost.
When asked about the likely impact of Trump’s proposed budget, White concluded, “The elimination of community development block grants and the ARC will be a serious blow to [Pulaski’s] addressing the economic changes and challenges.”