First let me say coal isn’t dead but her vital signs are not promising. Our Appalachian Mountain coal industry has been in decline for decades and unlike in past declines this one appears to be permanent.
Many experts say a complete collapse could be as little as five years away. There are a variety of reasons for this but the fact that high quality easy to get at thick seams have been mined out combined with competition from cheap western coal and even cheaper natural gas is chief among them. Other factors include regulation, emerging Green Technologies and global competition. In short, the engine that has driven our economy for over a century can no longer carry the load.
What to do, what if anything can we do. We certainly need to get ready, we need a plan. If we are to thrive as a county we must immediately take the necessary steps that will ensure new jobs and non coal dependent sources of revenue can be taped into as soon as possible. Our whole economy can no longer be based on a single industry, especially one in decline. We need more eggs in many baskets; we must diversify or decline and decay. It will not be easy; coal has been a good job provider and a major source of revenue for our county for decades. Unfortunately there are no ready replacements for generating the cash flow coal does so while we still have a coal industry it is imperative that we use the remaining resources she generates to develop a plan for a future economy. To be successful we must demand effectiveness from our leaders and policy makers. Effective leadership is the only way our small county will be able to compete with other counties for the funding essential to transition to a broader based mixed economy so essential if we are to grow. Hopefully coal will remain as part of the mix for years to come.
I do think we are ahead of the problem. I see great promise in a budding tourism and allied industry. The Dawkin’s Trail and the Puncheon Battlefield Community Park are major assets to tourism growth. We need to develop the supporting infrastructure necessary for their and other attraction growth. The four lane highway through Salyersville needs to be built as soon as possible. Tourism alone is not enough. We need to attract other job providers as well. One of these could be a biomass industry to utilize our vast sustainable forests. There is potential in our forests to develop everything from pelletized fuel for home heating to glue laminated building material to pulp for paper. Another viable option is renewable energy and emerging technology sectors, we have a quality workforce that can handle any job. With effective leadership it is hopeful we can attract manufacturing to locate in the new industrial park. We will require a mix of tourism, business, technology and manufacturing in the near future to supplement coal and in the long term well founded and well executed plans for our future is a must.