FRANKFORT, Ky. — The commonwealth has been named the recipient of a $1.2 million federal grant to establish the Appalachian Opportunity Zone Initiative to identify, develop and market projects in Opportunity Zones across 54 counties within the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) region, 37 of which are classified as distressed areas.
“The Appalachian Opportunity Zone Initiative offers a pointed strategy to encourage investment in areas of the commonwealth that need it most,” Gov. Matt Bevin said. “The region boasts incredible untapped economic opportunities, and we’re committed to leveraging every resource to promote those potential projects. This initiative promises to continue our transformative growth in Eastern Kentucky, and we look forward to seeing the exciting results.”
The grant, issued by ARC and administered by the Kentucky Department for Local Government (DLG), is expected to assist with efforts to attract private capital investment from Opportunity Funds.
“Appalachia is America’s best kept investment secret and the next great investment opportunity,” said DLG Commissioner Sandra Dunahoo. “The Appalachian Opportunity Zone Initiative will give our region a competitive advantage, allowing us to develop the necessary prospectuses to showcase and market our assets to a global economy.”
The Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development will develop, implement and oversee the three-year Appalachian Opportunity Zone Initiative, which will focus on individual counties and projects, as well as a regional development and marketing plan. The program aims to bridge the gap for distressed ARC counties that have great potential to develop projects but lack the necessary resources to develop and market projects at a level competitive with other regions.
As part of this initiative, the cabinet will utilize contracted consultants assigned to specified targeted ARC counties. Consultants will be selected via a competitive RFP process, and responsibilities include working directly with local community and business leaders to identify, develop and create a marketing plan for viable projects in the area. Consultants also will coordinate efforts with the cabinet’s legal, marketing and entrepreneurship staff to ensure all counties have access to the commonwealth’s full range of resources.
“This project is part of a broader effort to encourage investment in Opportunity Zones across Kentucky,” said Jessica Burke, general counsel at the cabinet. “Specifically, this grant will allow us to focus additional efforts on areas most in need of assistance in turning ideas for Opportunity Zone projects into actual investment. The capital needed to make these projects possible is already here in the commonwealth, and the Appalachian Opportunity Zone Initiative could be instrumental in connecting investors with growth opportunities throughout the ARC region.”
The initiative was announced today during a press conference at the Booneville Entertainment Center in Owsley County. Cabinet and DLG representatives were on hand to explain the new program and highlight a community that has already taken action to capitalize on the benefits of Opportunity Zones and breathe new life into a local venue with rich history.
Booneville’s Seale Theater, formerly a cornerstone of the community, closed in 1985 and has since dilapidated to the point it is no longer safe for use. The building was purchased by the Owsley County Alliance for Recreation and Entertainment (OCARE) and, by way of the organization’s Booneville Theater project, local leaders are attempting to revitalize the once prominent location to once again host a variety of events, including pageants, movie screenings and plays. Once complete, the renovated theater could provide job opportunities and serve as an attraction for residents of surrounding counties.
Grant funds also will support production of digital and print materials, including a comprehensive prospectus for each Kentucky county in the ARC region where opportunity zones are located, as well as regional and project-specific materials. Any remaining funds would be used to host investor conferences and other outreach activities throughout the region.
The Appalachian Opportunity Zone Initiative will expand the scope of work already being done by the cabinet to promote Opportunity Zones in Kentucky, specifically those within the state’s 54 ARC counties. The cabinet holds workshops – live and webcast – at various locations throughout the commonwealth to prepare communities to develop, promote and secure investment in eligible projects.