LOGAN — The word “transition” may leave some uneasy or for others — hopeful. However, that’s the point of word; meaning Hocking County’s economy could go one way, or the other.
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) released its County Economic Status Designations for fiscal year 2020 on June 25, which indicates Hocking County is in “transition” for economic development. The ARC is an economic development agency of the federal government, which focuses on state governments within the region, covering 420 counties.
Their mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to further help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation. Therefore, the County Economic Status Designation they release annually ranks the economic status of all 420 counties the region covers using national data.
To assess a county’s “economic status,” ARC tracks three major indicators for every county across the United States. Those indicators are: a three-year average unemployment rate; per capita market income; and poverty rate. Using these three indicators, ARC assigns a certain overall value to each county and ranks every county based off the calculated value.
Counties are then designated among five categories based on where they fall:
• “Attainment” status is given to the economically strongest counties in America and given to the top 10 percent of the counties assessed.
• “Competitive” status is given to the counties between the top 10 and 25 percent.
• “Transitional” status is given to the counties between the highest 25 percent and the lowest 25 percent. This category reflects the middle 50 percent of all counties assessed, which means they’re viewed as “transitioning” from either a weak economy to a better one, or vice versa.
• “At-risk” status is given to the counties between the lowest 10 and 25 percent.
• “Distressed” status is given to the lowest 10 percent of the counties within the United States and are the most economically depressed.
So what does this mean for Hocking County? Bret Allphin, Development Director of Buckeye Hills Regional Council, mentioned, “Hocking County has been in the “transitional” category back as far as data on the (ARC) website is available — FY 2002, which is pretty remarkable. This means to me that the economy hasn’t gone from good to bad or bad to good, but has been largely stable in comparison to other counties in the nation.”
Nearly all of Appalachian Kentucky, much of West Virginia, and four counties in Ohio are designated as “distressed,” including Hocking’s neighbor, Athens County.
“These classifications are created to set the guidelines for grant rates provided by the ARC to qualifying projects. The more distressed a county is, the higher grant rate a project in a designated county could qualify for. Aside from that, these classifications provide a unique reference point to see where a county is performing in regards to the rest of the nation,” explained Allphin.
ARC has been issuing these county designations on an annual basis since 2007, primarily to help the region’s 13 states develop economic investment strategies for the forthcoming year. In FY 2018, 279 projects totaling 64 percent of ARC investment dollars had a direct impact on distressed counties.
According to ARC’s County Economic Status Designations for Fiscal Year 2020, 80 counties will be considered “distressed”; 110 counties will be considered “at-risk”; 217 counties will be considered “transitional”; 10 counties will be considered “competitive”; and three counties will be considered “attainment.”
Also, ARC’s County Economic Status Designation for fiscal year 2020 found:
• FY 2020 will have the lowest number of designated distressed counties in Appalachia since 2008.
• Twenty-nine Appalachian counties across eight states experienced positive shifts in the economic status since FY 2019. This primarily includes counties in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, which each have five or more counties experiencing positive economic status shifts.
• Eighteen Appalachian counties will experience negative shifts in their economic status since FY 2019. This primary includes coal-impacted counties in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
“Parts of the Appalachian Region face significant economic challenges compared to the rest of the country, and by releasing this data publicly in an accessible format, ARC is seeking to ensure awareness of these challenges, and to inform policymakers at all levels,” stated ARC Federal Co-Chair, Tim Thomas.
“ARC and our state partners use this data to direct critical investments toward distressed areas, and I am pleased to see net improvements in many parts of the Region compared to previous years,” he added.
Currently, ARC is in FY 2019, which ends Sept. 30, 2019. ARC’s County Economic Status Designations for FY 2020 will be effective Oct. 1, 2019 – Sept. 30, 2020 for investment purposes.
To read more about the county designations or to view maps and previous designations the county received, visit arc.gov/news.