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DENNIS SEID: Economic development would suffer from cuts


President Donald Trump’s proposed budget includes the elimination of key economic development agencies, including the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has played a vital part in many projects in Mississippi.

While there is no doubt that government can be leaner and more efficient, the work of the ARC cannot be overlooked.

The ARC was created in 1965 as a federal agency to create jobs in 420 counties in 13 Appalachian states.

Its five-part mission is creating economic opportunity, preparing a ready workforce, building critical infrastructure, leveraging natural and cultural assets and cultivating leadership and community capacity.

Last year, it had a budget of $120 million.

From October 2015 to January of this year, ARC spent nearly $176 million on 662 projects in the 13 states, creating or retaining more than 23,000 jobs and training and educating more than 49,000 students and workers.

Of the 420 counties in Appalachia, 93 were considered economically distressed in fiscal year 2016. ARC said 394 projects totaling 76 percent of the agency’s investment dollars will have a direct impact on those counties.

Closer to home over the same period, ARC funding, in partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority, has supported 60 projects in the state totaling $16.6 million. That money was matched by $7.2 million, which will attract another $73 million in private investment.

“Look at every industrial park, sewer system, access road, gas line and other similar things, and you can see the impact ARC has in our area,” Mississippi ARC Executive Director Mike Armour said. “We want to continue working on great projects and try to improve the quality of life in the state. That’s our goal right now.”

Indeed, Sen. Roger Wicker has thrown his support behind keeping ARC funded.

“Our local officials and economic developers use ARC grants to create jobs and attract industry,” he said. “There are better places in the budget to find savings.”

Trump also wants to eliminate the Economic Development Administration, which is overseen by the Department of Commerce, providing about $250 million a year in economic development grants.

The budget also would eliminate Community Development Block Grants, which have been used to build community centers, neighborhood rehabilitation projects, affordable housing developments, public parks, childcare facilities and even disaster relief. CDBG program falls under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and about $150 billion has been allocated since 1975. While cuts were expected, the elimination of the entire program was not.

Randy Kelley, executive director of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District, said dissolving all three programs would be disastrous.

“Every industrial park, every port in the region has ARC and EDA money in it,” he said. “By eliminating ARC, EDA and CDBG, you’re getting rid of the three largest sources of infrastructure improvements for rural America. You do that, economic development for infrastructure is over.”

Job creation is the result of strong economic development efforts coming from a various partners. To eliminate such strong players is neither smart nor wise.

» Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com


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