Appalachian Regional Commissson Co-Chair visits Highland County
Monterey, Va. –
Earl Gohl, the Federal Co-Chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission made his first visit to Highland County last Friday. He came to see the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center and its meat processing facilities, and also to meet Betty Mitchell, whose reputation for getting things done for her community has reached as far as Washington, DC. Mr. Gohl comments on his impressions of Highland County.
“It’s certainly my first time in Highland County,” said Mr. Gohl. “I travel throughout Appalachia – throughout the 422 counties. We spend a lot of time on the road. I’ve been to southwest Virginia a number of time – to Abingdon and Grayson and Floyd Counties. But this is the first time we have made it over the mountain to Highland – a gorgeous place. You have a lot of energy and interesting assets you can work with. It’s a great place,” he said.
Mr. Gohl goes on to talk about the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“Well, Congress has provided the Appalachian Regional Commission between 62 and 68 million dollars a year for the last few years,” said Mr. Gohl. “And most of that is distributed between the thirteen states for them to allocate within the community. On an annualized basis within the region we have about 57 to 58 million dollars a year in grants we allocate either for projects or to support local development districts,” he said.
The Appalachian Regional Commission was established by Congress in 1965 and is made up of the Governors of the 13 participating states, including both Virginia and West Virginia. Mr. Gohl was appointed to his position by President Obama in 2010 and was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate.
Recently, Virginia has received about 2.8 million dollars in grants annually from the ARC. Since 1999, Highland County has received three ARC grants. The first set up the business incubator program at the Highland Center. The second funded the feasibility study for the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center and the third was for funding to renovate the Highland School building to add insulation and new doors and windows to improve the energy efficiency of the building. The Highland Center currently has a half million dollar grant proposal under review at the ARC to help fund the Center’s renovation project.
Mr. Gohl discusses the reasons he and his chief of staff Guy Land came to Highland County.
“We came here for two reasons, though,” said Mr. Gohl. “We wanted to see the meat processing plant. We wanted to see the slaughterhouse. And it wasn’t just because it was a slaughterhouse, but because of the way it was put together. ARC put a little bit of money into it, USDA provided two loans that were important, really for lack of a better word, they were the “meat” of the project. But then you were able to raise a million dollars locally in small amounts, and that really, I think, is the key to your success. It’s not only the money, but it’s the commitment to the facility. We have a number of communities throughout Appalachia who have worked to grow their agricultural community, including cattle raising, and the challenge always is so how do we market the beef. A number of communities who are struggling with this issue, are looking at their own slaughterhouses and trying to figure out how to proceed. So, as we get more and more questions about how you do this, we needed to see someone who had been able to succeed at doing this through the development phase and has a plan to move forward. We also had heard about the Highland Center and we had heard all these rumors about this woman who runs it and we thought it was really important to meet her.”
After a tour of the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center and lunch at the Highland Center, Mr. Gohl and Mr. Land learned about the Highland Center renovation project and toured the Center before getting on the road to their next destination.