Federal Agency Comes to Lewisburg for Examination of it's Past, Present, and Future
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has played an important role in Central Pennsylvania and throughout the 13-state region the Commission serves. As it nears its 50th year, where is it headed, and how can its past shed light on its future? Regional officials from across Pennsylvania, plus business and community leaders, came to SEDA-COG earlier this week as part of a focus group, one of a series intended to help guide the federal organization into its second half century.
Each of Pennsylvania’s seven Local Development Districts (LDDs) were represented, multi-county organizations specially designated to deliver ARC-related services. The primary attribute of ARC’s funding they said, is flexibility ─ sometimes providing seed money to get a project started, sometimes supplementing other public dollars to fully fund a project. In the 1980s, as federal dollars through ARC were drastically reduced, that flexibility allowed Pennsylvania’s LDDs to establish Enterprise Devolvement programs, i.e., business assistance services which significantly widened the impact of ARC funds.
Equally valuable is ARC’s “bottoms up” approach, as one participant said. The specific use of ARC dollars, within a region, is largely based on priorities established by local officials ─ elected and otherwise ─ sitting on the board of an LDD. Another referred to ARC as a “boundary crosser,” able to bring diverse opportunities together. The LDDs are also boundary crossers, bringing together different communities, thereby crossing the boundaries of local governments.
As to the future, funding remains a critical need. ARC currently receives $80.3 million per year to support projects developed by 73 multi-county LDDs in 13 states. As to the use of their ARC dollars, participants in the focus group stressed the need for planning. “Planning can be the empowerment mechanism,” said one individual, “needed to make large infrastructure projects happen.” State and federal dollars, intended for planning, are scarce in today’s public funding environment. Use of ARC funds for staff capacity at the LDD level is also important. LDDs are working one-on-one with business people and community officials, assisting in the development of local projects, and helping to bring their vision to life. In many cases, LDDs have become the “go to” organization in the regions they serve, providing local governments with expertise in economic and community development.
This week’s focus group at SEDA-COG was one of several being held across the 13-state region. They are being conducted in partnership with the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness, a non-profit research organization based in Arlington, VA; and two West Virginia University research units ─the Regional Research Institute, and the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.