Can Appalachia adapt to a new economy?

© 2017-The Record Delta

In Van Jones’ book “The Green Collar Economy,” he poses the following questions: “Whom do we love and care about more? Our children – and their immediate need for a viable economy? Or our grandchildren – and their long-term need for a viable planet?”
These questions pose a heartbreaking dilemma, that leave us few good alternatives. Politicians, in their attempt to appeal to our proud, hard-working Appalachian voters, tell us that they can bring the coal jobs back. They hope we will ignore the longer-term need for a viable planet for our grandchildren.
Forget that these are false promises—  that the coal industry isn’t coming back (as pointed out in Michael E. Webber’s November 2016 New York Times Op Ed). But, more importantly, Jones points out that the dilemma is a false choice. Because, while we cannot drill, mine, and burn our way out of our economic problems, we can invent and invest our way out.
“The Green Collar Economy” inspired me to think about ways to adapt agricultural waste to create eco-friendly (biodegradable) bioplastic alternatives to the petroleum-based plastic products that currently clog our landfills. My wife Carla, who has been disabled since suffering a stroke at age 23 and whose ancestors “bootstrapped” themselves out of poverty from the foothills of Appalachia, inspired me to think beyond a green collar economy. She made me want to think about ways to also help the “silver-set” (those over 50 who are the fastest growing population in the United States) adapt to aging or other mobility issues, like those my wife has confronted since she became disabled.
By taking these inspirations, I asked myself, could I become an “eco-“ as well as an “argent-“entrepreneur and create new, decent-wage manufacturing jobs in Appalachia by tapping into the natural growth of a green- and silver-collar economy?
That is my sincere hope with the company we recently founded called Adaptive Appalachia, LLC. The first product we plan to produce is called the GRAB-ER-DONE CANE, a walking cane and grabber in one, which my wife uses to be more independent and which she named in honor of her memories of the “get-‘er-done” mentality of her Appalachian ancestors. She uses her GRAB-ER-DONE CANE to pick up trash, retrieve dropped keys, and to play fetch with our dogs (among other things) without relying on the help of others.
We also intend to begin marketing and distributing a variety of bioplastic alternatives to petroleum-based plastic products, made from rice husks, like travel coffee mugs, chopping boards, lunch boxes, etc. These products are now mostly manufactured in China. But our hope is that once we raise enough capital for Adaptive Appalachia (we have an Indiegogo campaign scheduled to launch in early November), we will be able to manufacture these and other innovative bioplastic products right here in Appalachia, using rice husks from rice harvesting operations in Arkansas. Our ultimate dream is to employ people now left out of the workforce – such as displaced miners, former welfare recipients, reformed prisoners, and recovered opioid addicts – in these “new economy” jobs.
If you’d like to learn more about our plans for Adaptive Appalachia, you can contact me at [email protected]
Deborah is the owner of Adaptive Appalachia, LLC in Maysville, W.Va.

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