BUCKHANNON – Should it pass as is, President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget could have potentially dire economic consequences for Upshur County and communities across the Appalachian region, local officials say.
Trump’s draft 2018 budget proposes a $54 billion increase in defense spending; however, to counterbalance that increase, Trump is recommending completely eliminating 46 federal agencies and programs, two of which could potentially drastically impact Upshur County and the entire Appalachian region. Those include the Appalachian Regional Commission, which invests in projects for economic growth in the Appalachian region, and the Economic Development Administration, which provides funding for economic development projects across the U.S.
Most recently, Upshur County benefitted from the existence of the EDA when the agency awarded the Upshur County Development Authority a $2.3 million grant that allowed it to proceed with plans of building a knowledge and innovation-based business center in downtown Buckhannon.
The Upshur County Knowledge and Innovation Business Center will be located at the corner of Spring and Main Street, and UCDA executive director Rob Hinton hopes it will attract high-tech jobs to Upshur County.
It’s no surprise, then, that Hinton affirmed Monday that both the EDA and ARC play a crucial role in the economic growth of the Appalachian region.
“Those two agencies are critical to economic development in rural Appalachia or in Appalachia as a whole,” Hinton said Monday.
Comprised of the governors of 13 Appalachian states, ARC invests in activities that foster economic opportunities, a ready workforce, critical infrastructure, natural and cultural assets and leadership and community capacity, according to its website.
“The ARC helps fund Region VII (Planning & Development Council) and ARC money also goes into a lot of infrastructure projects around the state, like water and sewer projects, and most recently, broadband. (If ARC were to be eliminated) you would lose the opportunity for broadband projects – that’s going to be instantaneous,” Hinton said.
Shane Whitehair, executive director of Region VII Planning & Development Council, said he recently calculated that ARC funneled $20 million into West Virginia for infrastructure projects over the last five years.
“We just recently did a calculation of what the impact (the ARC) has had on the state of West Virginia, and we found that roughly $20 million has been received in West Virginia for projects over the last five years, and that $20 million leveraged an additional $60 million. Now, that $60 million can be in federal, state or local funds,” Whitehair said Monday.
Whitehair said ARC provides additional funding for any kind of public works project.
“If you take that away, it eliminates an additional source of funding for these people to do any kind of public works projects to improve their communities,” he added. Region VII itself – which serves a seven-county region including Upshur, Barbour, Braxton, Gilmer, Lewis, Randolph and Tucker – receives $80,000 a year in operational funds from ARC.
The EDA – which Whitehair and Hinton both say also provides necessary funding for economic and community development in Appalachia – has a policy of investing in projects that establish a foundation for sustainable job growth and the building of strong, sound regional economies throughout the U.S., according to its website.
Hinton said putting EDA on the chopping block would significantly affect the business climate in the county and nearby areas.
“Eliminating the EDA would impact any projects with regard to business expansion, trying to get property ready to be expanded for a business to move in, trying to recruit businesses,” Hinton said. “EDA assisted with the cost of the (Upshur County) Industrial Park and then also with some work that was done seven or eight years ago. The EDA has done a lot throughout the state – the high-tech park in Fairmont and the high-tech park in Charleston wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the EDA.
“Those are the kind of things that we have because the EDA comes in and offers assistance. So if it’s taken away, then job creation money is taken away.”
Whitehair also noted the EDA’s contribution to bettering the UCDA’s Industrial Park.
“Upshur County has been successful in receiving EDA funds,” Whitehair said. “The developments and improvements made to the Industrial Park, and the innovation and knowledge business center are funded through EDA funds. Part of the program is specifically geared to create private sector jobs within communities. The EDA is just an additional resource to make improvements that provide opportunities to the public.”
What’s most concerning to Whitehair is the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant program Trump is proposing; it also listed as one of the 46 agencies the president could cut. Although the CDBG program falls under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, funding can be tailored to assist communities with their specific needs – for instance, CDBG funds pay for infrastructure development, according to Whitehair.
“It would have one of the biggest impacts just because there’s millions and millions and millions of dollars that are spent in West Virginia from CDBG, and Upshur County has always benefitted from that program,” Whitehair said.
So, how concerned are Whitehair and Hinton that the president will actually follow through on eliminating ARC and EDA? Both say cuts are likely, but they’re not expecting Trump to completely scrap either agency.
Hinton said, “Obviously, it’s a concern that he would like to cut these agencies, but between now and when they have to decide on a budget, it would be very shocking if the agencies completely went away within one year. Downsizing – maybe that’s a concern. Lowering the amount of funds – but completely eliminating them in one fell swoop, that just seems like it’d be hard to accomplish because they have to get that through Congress as well.”
Whitehair said he believes ARC and EDA have staunch support from county congressional representatives.
When asked if he thinks the two agencies will actually be eliminated, he said, “Probably not because all of our federal representatives support these programs and they know the impact they have on West Virginia and how West Virginia needs those agencies to compete nationally.”
If ARC was cut, that would also cut funding for Corridor H, which is part of the Appalachian Highway System. Corridor H – which has strong support from local, state and national representatives – is planned to run for 148 miles from northern Virginia to central West Virginia.
“We have support congressionally for that project and other projects,” Whitehair said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some cuts that are made, but I don’t foresee (ARC) being completely cut.”
The federal budget is expected to be finalized by Oct. 1, 2017, when it will go into effect.