Author: Larry Calhoun, Harlan County Economic Development Director
28 Dec 2017
Many are unaware the coal mining profession comes with a wide collection of transferable skills. The past few decades have seen a steep decline in the demand for coal from areas like Harlan County, which has left many out of work. And yet, this apparent misfortune is one the area has turned to its advantage.
Critically, Harlan County coal miners have both a dedicated work ethic and a range of highly useful skills. In order to create a finished product, for example, the process of coal mining demands a vast array of skilled jobs; as such, the industry has nurtured many talents that remain relevant today.
Former coal mining employees have retained expertise in a range of disciplines, such as pipefitting, welding, computerised equipment operation, industrial maintenance, communications and electronics. Such skills are now highly sought after in the manufacturing and tech industries.
Far from being shouldered with an out-of-date skillset, the diversified experience of former miners means they tend to adapt easily to both existing and emerging industries, while their years of experience and desire to work combine to create a highly desirable employee. What’s more, experience shows their skill sets are easily topped up through classroom teaching or on-site training.
What sets Harlan County apart is its success in generating an environment that is highly conducive to investment and business, which, in turn, paves the way for enterprises to unlock the full potential of the county’s inhabitants.
Harlan County is a business-friendly county with a wealth of land suitable for facilities. It also has minimal business regulations. For instance, the process for granting permission for a new facility takes as little as 60 days from the moment the initial plans are submitted.
The simple reality is smaller communities such as Harlan County offer the best opportunities for overall quality of life
On top of this, financing is available through a consortium of banks at highly competitive rates. Aviation-related companies, automobile manufacturing and automobile ancillary-related companies, data storage, IT, mining, eco-tourism and agri-science projects are among those sectors currently gaining substantial momentum in Harlan County.
As new companies move into the area, the goods and services offered by existing companies experience higher demand, which ultimately creates an excellent environment for expansion.
Another factor contributing to the economic success of Harlan County is the growing awareness of the benefits of a rural setting. Rural areas offer the best of what modern cities used to be, without the high crime rates, traffic congestion, pollution and anxiety. The simple reality is smaller communities such as Harlan County offer the best opportunities for education, healthcare and overall quality of life. Furthermore, the natural beauty of the area lends itself to a serene and inviting workplace.
The picturesque setting is also driving momentum in the eco-tourism industry, which is becoming an increasingly valuable sector worldwide. Indeed, there has always been an emphasis on wildlife as a tourism draw in southeastern Kentucky. Over the years, this wildlife draw has transformed from hunting pursuits into an extraordinary opportunity for viewing and photographing animals. Additionally, zip-lining and off-road driving have become mainstays in the region, while rock climbing is also an increasingly popular endeavour.
Crucially, eco-tourism is a sustainable business model that helps to fuel the local economy by sponsoring locally produced resources. The ancillary companies that sell products to eco-tourism businesses provide yet another source of employment, and the industry in southeastern Kentucky has already started creating new jobs and generating higher incomes for its residents. A virtuous cycle is underway, one that is ensuring the future of eco-tourism in the region. With all these factors at play, the opportunity for innovation and expansion in southeastern Kentucky appears to have no limit.