The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) was established by Congress in 1965 to address the economic issues of the Appalachian region (ARC History). It was created because one in three Appalachians lived in poverty before the ARC was created and the region lagged behind the national averages in education and healthcare. Congress established a mandate in the Appalachian Regional Development Act to focus resources on closing the socioeconomic divide between the area and the rest of the nation. Throughout its history, the ARC has worked to develop regional planning, research activities and advocacy, and distribute grants for public-private partnerships to obtain their goals. Their accomplishments included cutting the amount of distressed counties from 223 in 1965 to 77 counties in 2006, dropping Appalachia’s infant mortality rate by two-thirds, and increasing the percentage of Appalachian adults with a high school diploma by more than 70 percent (Hearing before the committee on environment and public works, United States Senate, 2006). The ARC covers all 410 Appalachian counties in the United States, and the partnerships it has been able to develop in Ohio, aided by the Governor’s Office of Appalachia, have been incredibly influential (History of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia)
While Senator Voinovich had been born, raised, and elected in Cleveland, Ohio, he obtained his undergraduate degree at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. During his time at Ohio University, he would learn more about the Appalachian region and expressed, “My days at Ohio University and my experiences representing the region’s interests as governor and senator have opened my eyes to the unique challenges and assets in Appalachia. I have made a personal commitment to helping this region develop and prosper” (10.5.2005, Appalachian Regional Commission Annual Meeting). To help obtain his goals of development and growth, Senator Voinovich continually advocated for and built a valuable relationship with the Appalachian Regional Commission.
Senator Voinovich quickly recognized the value of the ARC and continually worked to support the organization: “My 2002 ARC reauthorization legislation provided unprecedented funding for a new telecom initiative to help bridge the digital divide and assist businesses and residents in taking advantage of e-commerce opportunities” (10.5.2005, Appalachian Regional Commission Annual Meeting). Following the passage of this Act, Senator Voinovich continued the work by sponsoring the 2003 report “From Vision to Reality…. An Implementation plan for development of the Appalachian Region of Ohio.” The plan worked directly with what was then the Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University to help encourage entrepreneurship, technological development, and environmental protection.
Following the report, the work of the ARC continued with multiple partnerships with Ohio University and Senator Voinovich. In 2007, ARC and Senator Voinovich hosted the first Energy Summit with multiple Appalachian stakeholders, a summit that continues to take place today (Appalachian Ohio Energy Economic Development Summit, 2007). Furthermore, the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs has continually worked with different Appalachian communities to promote development across the region. In 2016, Ohio University received a $2 million grant from the ARC’s Partnerships for Opportunities and Workforce and Economic Revitalization program to help develop more than 125 new businesses (OU receives $2 million POWER grant, 8.24.16).
While the Appalachian region has struggled economically, Senator Voinovich continually worked to promote partnerships and innovation in the region. Senator Voinovich was also the primary sponsor during two large reauthorizations of ARC by the federal government, occurring in 2002 and 2008 (Senate Bill 1206 and Senate Bill 496). By supporting the ARC, they were able to work in tandem to support economic development and environmental sustainability through a number of different initiatives. Those initiatives continue today to make steps forward in helping the entirety of Appalachia.