CAN recognizes that historically, a complex set of economic, social, environmental, and political factors have prevented the Central Appalachian region from reaching its full economic potential. A lack of economic diversity and the out-of-state ownership of industry, coupled with a lack of regional investment, has led to a scarcity of economic drivers and a highly uneven distribution of wealth. An undervaluing of education, a lack of local control, continued outgoing migration, and a learned sense of helplessness has led to weakened community capacity and the disenfranchisement of many rural communities. This disenfranchisement, as well as a lack of connection between people and government, has led to the consolidation of political control and ineffective governance in many areas. And finally, the exploitation and short-term valuing of natural resources have led to a degradation of the region’s valuable environmental assets.
Despite these challenges, CAN sees many opportunities for working towards an Appalachian economy that creates wealth that stays local, improves the livelihoods of rural communities, and protects and sustains the natural assets of the region. These opportunities are supported by recent shifts in the public dialogue around economic diversification and long-term resilience, which require sustainable use of natural resources. This emerging shift in public perception represents an opportunity; it also indicates that the timing is right to promote sustainable economic development in several economic sectors. CAN’s position as a regional network allows us to influence the public discourse and capitalize on local business and economic diversification trends to encourage more long-term awareness and investment in sustainable economic development efforts. In addition, new and emerging markets for sustainable, local products and services provide an opportunity for triple-bottom-line entrepreneurship, which considers economic, social, and environmental factors.
CAN believes that our collaboration allows us to be more than the sum of our parts. CAN member organizations have diverse strengths and areas of expertise, which we each put to use in support of a common vision.
Strategies for Advancing Economic Development
CAN’s Working Groups employ three core approaches to advance community economic development in Central Appalachia: 1) sector-based economic development; 2) regional economic development systems capacity-building; and 3) centering equity in economic development. CAN applies a climate-smart, resilience-focused lens to all of our work. These strategies effectively move the region toward a just, sustainable transition.
Strategy 1: Sector-Based Economic Development
Sector-based value chain development across state lines is the key to building stronger, resilient, diverse economies among the region’s coal-impacted communities. CAN develop and supports these sectors through Working Groups capable of advancing collective regional outcomes. CAN’s Working Groups engage in peer learning, develop a shared vision and strategy, and work collaboratively to implement those strategies. Each of CAN’s Working Groups focuses on specific sectors and uses different strategies to build those sectors. However, the principles of collaboration inform them all. These principles include: peer learning, capacity-building, developing shared frameworks and strategies, regional systems to scale up the impact of local work, and shared resources to empower local communities.
Strategy 2: Regional Economic Development Systems Capacity-Building
Regional capacity-building efforts are key to our collective impact. We work to strengthen and connect community economic development leaders and networks by hosting convenings and providing small grants to support emerging efforts. Change happens at the speed of trust. This collaborative work builds understanding and develops strategies that nurture trust, essential for regional work to succeed. Communities need tangible support and opportunities to learn from their peers at a sub-regional and regional level to develop working relationships that advance our shared goals. Regional convenings, Can-tanks (like think tanks, but action-oriented), and mini-grants are examples of this tangible support.
Strategy 3: Centering Equity and Inclusion in Economic Development
CAN’s 30 years as a network have developed a supportive ecosystem for community economic development across Central Appalachia. In recent years, CAN leadership has taken steps to center diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in our policies, practices, and engagement methods. CAN’s Equity Committee is hiring an Equity Consultant to guide this work of addressing social inequities throughout the region by centering this focus within the very structure and activities of the network. Active outreach and engagement with historically and currently marginalized communities – in particular, those communities that have experienced systemic racial violence, underrepresentation, and exclusion – is driving CAN’s democratic restructuring designed to empower organizations and individuals from across the network to learn, shape, and inform the work of CAN.