UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Appalachian communities that enjoyed persistent economic growth following the 2008 Great Recession have a number of factors in common, according to researchers who analyzed all 420 counties in the Appalachian region. Their findings will help guide future economic development strategies across Appalachia.
“Economically resilient communities, such as Pennsylvania’s McKean County, can teach us about strategies for promoting resilience elsewhere in the region,” said Stephan J. Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. “By identifying the resilience-promoting factors these communities share, our findings will help other communities select strategies and policies to enhance their own future economic prospects.”
The results of the analysis recently were published by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) in a report titled “Strengthening Economic Resilience in Appalachia.”
Using a novel, county-level measure of economic resilience developed by Goetz and Yicheol Han, formerly at Penn State and now at the Korea Rural Economic Institute, the researchers examined the relationship between a county’s resilience ranking and 35 individual variables hypothesized to be associated with resilience, such as broadband availability, natural amenities, and the number of resident college graduates.
Through statistical analysis, they looked at each variable in isolation while holding others constant, allowing them to determine which variables have the strongest relationship with resilience. They also examined how the interaction of certain variables with one another affects resilience.
“Our statistical models were used not only to identify the different factors associated with resilience but also to identify counties that performed much better or much worse than was predicted by the statistical models,” said Goetz. “These findings then were used to select the counties for in-depth follow-up studies.”
Through further analysis and field interviews, the researchers identified seven common strategies adopted by the counties with higher resilience scores:
— Investing in education, technology, infrastructure and broadband.
— Engaging the community over the long term.
— Growing youth engagement and next-generation leadership.
— Identifying and growing the assets in the community and region.
— Building networks and fostering collaboration.
— Moving multiple sectors forward for economic development and growing value chains.
— Cultivating entrepreneurs and developing resources for business startups.
The research team also conducted case studies of selected counties in the Appalachian region and across the country to gain additional insight into how some communities have rebounded from the recession and other economic disruptions in mining, manufacturing, hospitality, education, transportation and similar industries.