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Coal-Reliant Communities Innovation Challenge

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Harlan County, Kentucky

Harlan, Kentucky (David Stephenson/Wall Street Journal)

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Harlan County has also moved forward with plans for a new manufacturing facility that will be built on a former coal mining site.

They have developed ad campaigns around county tourism and are looking to further foster the growth of small businesses in the county.

Rio Blanco County, Colorado

Colowyo Coal Mine near Craig, Colo (Patrick Kelly/Craig Daily Press via AP)

Colowyo Coal Mine in Rio Blanco County (Patrick Kelly/Craig Daily Press via AP)

Rio Blanco County attended the workshop in in Grand Junction, Colorado, in September 2015.

Since the workshop, the county moved forward with their plans for a broadband expansion program throughout the remote parts of the county. Rio Blanco has also partnered with several other counties in the region to promote region-wide tourism and region-wide economic development strategies, and is working on two Main Street programs for downtown revitalization.

Economies in Transition

“The point of this program is to help communities leverage their assets and pursue place-based economic development strategies that promote lasting wealth in communities that allows them to embrace various types of industries and growth sectors that are appropriate for their community,” Nothstine said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

This is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

This work is more broadly applicable than just to coal-reliant communities.

“We see this as part of a larger effort that we’re undertaking to support economies in transition, which are places that have largely been reliant on one industry or one employer for a long time, whether that’s coal, manufacturing, the auto industry or any other,” Nothstine said.

As such, the lessons and strategies that Innovation Challenge communities are employing have relevance across a variety of sectors.

This work is more broadly applicable than just to coal-reliant communities.

The key to this work, Nothstine says, is identifying a community’s assets, what kind of future the residents want to have for themselves and for their children, and how they can bring these resources to bear to achieve those community-based goals.

Although the program is too new to have any measurable outcomes, the partnerships being built and steps being taken to diversify economies point to a more vibrant future for communities that will no longer be coal-reliant.

Learn more about economic diversification in coal-reliant communities in NACo’s podcast: