Many small, rural Kentucky communities and non-profit organizations have good, creative ideas, but lack financial resources to turn those ideas into reality.
That was the situation Tri-Cities Heritage Development Corporation, a Main Street program established to promote the economic revitalization of the cities of Cumberland, Benham, and Lynch in Harlan County, found when the board of directors decided to move forward on a long-range strategic planning project for the Tri-Cities area.
Located in the eastern Kentucky Coal Fields stretching along the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau, the Tri-Cities area has a wealth of natural resources—the beauty of the mountains, rich cultural heritage, and scenic tourist attractions—but the non-profit organization needed additional funding support to bring its plans to fruition.
In February of 2010, board members received news they had been waiting for to get the ball rolling on the first phase of a community-based strategic plan to meet the needs of the business community in the Tri-Cities area and promote the region’s cultural heritage tourism initiatives.
“The Center for Rural Development, through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), awarded the Tri-Cities Heritage Development Corporation a planning grant for the cities of Cumberland, Benham, and Lynch,” board member and former chair Roy Silver explained. “The intent of the grant was to develop Web pages for all businesses— both residential and commercial—in all three towns and to have a series of community meetings where the community would prioritize ways for improving local businesses.”
Thanks to an $8,000 (ARC) strategic planning grant presented by The Center’s Developing and Implementing Community Strategies Program, Tri-Cities Heritage Development Corporation is now able to give more first-time visitors to Harlan County a glimpse of what they can see and do in the Tri-Cities area.
“Funded through the Appalachian Regional Commission, this project has given us the opportunity to work with all three towns to develop a comprehensive strategic plan that will benefit all of the businesses on Main Street,” Bobbie Gothard, director of Tri-Cities Heritage Development Corporation, said. “By having an Internet presence, we feel it will give each of our businesses, civic clubs, and everyone else in the Tri-Cities area a chance to be seen worldwide, attract more businesses to the region, and bring us more up-to-date with today’s technology.”
This is the first Internet presence for Tri-Cities Heritage Development Corporation and the first exposure many of these Harlan County businesses have had to the Web.
Included on the Web site is a comprehensive business services directory for all residential and commercial businesses in the Tri-Cities area.
“Technology, the Internet and the Web, are critically important,” Silver, who teaches sociology at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, said. “For years, many people have felt that our road system is not necessarily the best. However, with the information super highway, there are no boundaries.
“We can now have that Internet presence to publicize the great things we have and the assets we have in our community,” he added. “It is an invaluable asset to help level the playing field that people, particularly in these economic hard times, can find places to visit within less than a day’s driving distance from their home, have a great tourism experience, and interact with the great people we have here.”
Both Silver and Gothard admit it would have been “very challenging” for any of the three communities in the Tri-Cities area to singlehandedly come up with local funds to support the project.
“The Center for Rural Development has been very supportive throughout each phase of our project,” Silver said. “The Center’s staff has helped fine tune our plans and worked with us during the implementation of these plans.”
“Without the ARC funding support, we would not have been able to produce the Web site,” she said. “We did not have the financial backing for the project and we received a lot of technical help from the employees of The Center.”
Other Tri-Cities board members lent their technical expertise to the project and two students from Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College helped with the photography and design work on the Web site.
Southeast student Candra Sweet, who took photographs for many of the businesses featured in the business services directory, said the project drove home the importance of the rich, cultural heritage of Harlan County and its people.
“We are a coal-mining community,” she said. “I think in a lot of ways we are known for our artists and their creative talents. We live in a beautiful place and we have beautiful people who do beautiful things.”
Web designer and Southeast student Candace Boggs said she discovered a lot about the history of the Tri-Cities area while she compiling business profiles for the Web site.
“I think our community is very unique,” she said, referring to Portal 31, Kentucky’s first exhibition coal mine, and other area tourist attractions. “The historical part of our community is very special.”
During the first phase of the project, Tri-Cities Heritage Development Corporation has been working to set up the Web site and input information and photographs in the business services directory. Earlier this month, the board received an $8,000 ARC implementation grant from The Center for Rural Development to continue their strategic planning efforts and Web site development.
In the next six months, Tri-Cities Heritage Development Corporation will continue to develop and publish free Web pages for local businesses, create a community business guide, push a “buy local” campaign in the Tri-Cities area, and conduct community meetings to evaluate progress.
“We will be using much of the same information that we have for the Web page,” Gothard said. “We hope to put all of the information into a hard document that we can give to each of the merchants in the Tri-Cities area that they can keep on hand and refer businesses from one place to the other.”
To learn more about Tri-Cities Heritage Development Corporation and the Tri-Cities area, visit www.tricitiesky.org. For more information about The Center for Rural Development’s Developing and Implementing Community Strategies Program and future ARC funding opportunities, contact The Center at 606-677-6000 or visit centertech.com.