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Research from Voinovich School faculty provides guidance for the International Economic Development Council

Daniel Kington
October 27, 2015

In summer 2015, Dr. Jason Jolley, Master of Public Administration (MPA) director and assistant professor with the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, was selected by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) to complete a skill-shed analysis. This analysis evaluated the occupational skills of recently unemployed coal workers and identified other positions in the region that require similar skills. Jolley’s research, completed in conjunction with Strengthening Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), was intended to help the IEDC create an economic development strategy for the eastern Kentucky region.

“Working in Appalachia on rural issues fits very well with the kind of work we do at the Voinovich School,” Jolley stated.

Through his research, Jolley found that most economic growth in regions affected by job loss in the coal mining industry is largely concentrated in healthcare, social services, restaurant and retail. Unfortunately, these sectors generally do not require similar occupational skills to those of former coal workers. Furthermore, fields that do require occupational skills compatible with those of former coal workers are generally not experiencing significant growth and offer positions that tend to pay less than the workers’ former jobs in the coal industry. This means that even if many former coal workers can be employed in areas that require corresponding occupational skills, the economies of former coal mining communities must adjust to the lower wages.

In order to further aid in the economic development of the region, Jolley led two workshops on technology led economic development strategies: one in Prestonburg, Kentucky, and one in Manchester, Kentucky. At these workshops, Jolley talked to leaders in economic development about how they might use the new potential of broadband connectivity. Jolley also facilitated a discussion on case studies and strategies relevant to these communities. More than 50 community leaders attended the workshop in Prestonburg while more than 80 community leaders attended the workshop in Manchester. Jolley is optimistic about the emerging opportunity of broadband technology and stated that he hopes his research will help the IEDC and eastern Kentucky community leaders “guide some of their thinking around how they might better leverage this asset to improve economic resiliency and diversification.”

Dana Crater, a senior economic development associate with the IEDC, stated that “80 percent of coal mining employment has been lost, so it’s [had] a huge impact on the region,” and Jolley was able to “identify new ideas and strategies” that will help formulate a viable planning strategy. “For a region that has struggled a lot with turning plans into action,” Crater stated, “a viable planning strategy is one that can help them in creating a short-term approach to address this issue.”

Jeff Finkle, president of IEDC, certified economic developer, and the GVS Appalachian New Economy Partnership Fellow, also praised Jolley’s work. Finkle stated, "Dr. Jolley and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs' high-quality research provided the economic development leaders in Kentucky a valuable resource in their continued efforts towards economic diversification. IEDC is pleased to have had the opportunity to partner with Dr. Jolley on this forward-looking project in Eastern Kentucky."