There are more remote regions in the country, but the Appalachian Region with its population of 25 million is unique in the way that it is comparatively populous, within reach of large metropolitan areas of the East and yet is still isolated in many parts. Poverty in Appalachia was ubiquitous when President Johnson signed legislation to make federal funds available to develop the Appalachian Region. The construction of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) has since been one of the major efforts to overcome economic distress in the region. The relationship between poor access to markets and the lack of economic opportuni-ties has been well known for a long time.
With the ADHS nearing its completion and highway accessibility widely improved, economic distress and its consequences remain a prevalent issue in some parts of Appalachia, reinforced by the nation’s evolving economy. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has therefore started a project to examine the many facets of accessibility, how they rate across the Region, and the relationship of accessibility to economic outcomes.
EDR Group is working with the ARC to identify and define the types of accessibility that are most important for economic prosperity and quality of life in rural Appalachia. The study is examining the availability of data and options for measurement of various types of accessibility, with the hope that better information can help states and economic development agencies to better include rural accessibility considerations in their programs and investment decision-making. This includes workers’ accessibility to jobs and businesses’ accessibility to labor, supplier and consumer markets. ARC and EDR Group are also investigating how to best portray acces-sibility to food, healthcare, education or broadband internet. More attention is also paid to populations who cannot rely on a car and for whom the ADHS may therefore bring limited benefits.
Improving access is obviously not sufficient to guarantee that economic distress and its consequences can be overcome, but it constitutes a prerequisite for people to exploit opportunities as they are available.