Gayle Manchin dives into work with ARC
BETHANY — Former West Virginia first lady Gayle Manchin is now at the helm as federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.
She said she now will lead the commission to seek federal funding for such items as broadband, highway expansion and opioid addiction programs for Appalachia. And she wants the ARC board to work together and prove an example of how government officials can work together to achieve the common good.
Manchin — the wife of former governor and current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia — was sworn in last week to her post, and will serve as the 13th federal co-chair of the ARC. She is the first ARC co-chair to hail from the Mountain State.
The jurisdiction of the ARC runs from Southern New York to Missisissipi, following the Appalachian Mountains and encompassing 420 counties in portions of 13 states including eastern Ohio. West Virginia is the only state whose 55 counties all fall completely within the Appalachian Region.
In addition to Ohio, other states represented by the ARC are Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York and North Carolina, as well as Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
The governors from each of the 13 states make up the ARC board, and each year, one is elected to serve as the second co-chair. This year Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam serves as co-chair alongside Manchin.
“One of the things I want to do is travel to each of the 13 states, and see the areas to see what the commonalities are — and what the uniqueness is — so that as we move forward through the coming year we can do as much as possible to provide the resources the states need. “ she said.
She hopes the ARC can find a project to work on together that meets agreement with all the member governors.
“I think if we can work together and find success, that would really highlight the Appalachian Regional Commission in a way it has been before,” Manchin said.
The need for broadband is one concern shared by the group, she said.
“I think we realized during COVID that our broadband was not stable or suitable for our kids to be able to learn virtually,” she said.
Problems with opioid addiction also are being fought by communities throughout the region, according to Manchin.
“We’ve got to find ways to overcome addiction, whether it is through rehab services, education … we’ve just got to find a way,” she said. “People are dying of substance abuse, and we’ve got to do something about it.”
Highway projects within the region also should be addressed, and among these should be the completion of Corridor H in West Virginia, Manchin said.
“To get it finished would be wonderful,” she said. “That opens that corridor to Washington. Several of the states have some common projects they are trying to complete.”
When President John F. Kennedy first envisioned the ARC program, building roads to connect Appalachia to the rest of the country was one of the main goals, she explained.
“At that time, West Virginia had no highways,” Manchin said. “That was a core component in the beginning, and it’s still important. We still need to be building onto our highway system to connect each other.
“There are always new issues and challenges that come up. But unfortunately it always seems rural America always seems to be at the bottom of the list.”
She termed the ARC “special” because there is not a similar group that links together a section of America to address their area’s needs and find solutions.
“I would really like to showcase the ARC and show how it can pull people together to meet common challenges and issues, and find solutions to those problems. I hope we can do that,” Manchin said.