With layoffs gathering steam in the coal industry, Appalachia is in need of a few big ideas to turn itself around.
Luckily, John Trusty is a man with big ideas.
The recently hired executive director of the Appalachian Artisan Center envisions a future in which many residents of Eastern Kentucky make their way through the world in much the same way their ancestors did a century ago — by relying on what they had around them.
Trusty doesn’t expect Appalachian residents to return to pre-industrial, subsistence agriculture. Instead, he sees them combining their innate talents with the physical and cultural building blocks at their disposal to create value. That is something that has been largely missing from the economic history of Eastern Kentucky.
In the past, our ancestors provided the building blocks of development elsewhere, and they were paid poorly for their contributions. They sold timber and coal rights, largely to out-of-state companies. Those companies then made obscene profits by converting timber into construction materials and furniture, and using coal to power homes and steel mills. Our ancestors made pennies, while the companies made dollars.
Think of it this way: Grab a piece of firewood and try to sell it. You might get a quarter, if you’re lucky. Transform that piece of wood into a dulcimer, however, and you might fetch a few hundred dollars. That’s what it means to create value, and that essentially is what Trusty is attempting to do.
Of course, even if successful, the Appalachian Artisan Center cannot cure all of Eastern Kentucky’s historic financial troubles. But it is a start, and it is exactly the type of development we need to see happen over and over again, if we expect our region to catch up with the rest of the nation in terms of prosperity, especially with the coal industry showing every sign of limping into a waning future.
Eastern Kentucky needs the Appalachian Artisan Center to be successful, to blaze a new path for entrepreneurs of all stripes. But the center needs public support, if it hopes to be successful. That means money, from people like you.
These are lean times, with every indication that they will grow leaner still. That is why it is so important for the Appalachian Artisan Center to succeed. Appalachians need to prove, more to themselves more than to anyone else, that they still can make a way in this world, regardless of what is happening in any industry.
— The Floyd County Times