Monday I drove almost 4 hours from Louisville to the Hazard, Whitesburg and Pikeville KY area. This is far eastern KY on the Virginia border. Central Appalachia. The heart of premium (low-sulfur) bituminous coal country.
It is very rural but beautiful country. Unfortunately it is now littered with closed coal mines and mines running at maybe 10 to 15 percent capacity.
To be fair the population in general is not highly educated. However there is high skill set for different trades. Plumbers, electricians, mechanial/HVAC, etc.
Lots of truck drivers and large industry for rail/trains. The people are very down to earth and humble. As we say in Kentucky "they're good people".
Unfortunately this entire region has been and still is almost entirely tied to the coal industry...there is really nothing else to support the economy. And as we all know, the coal industry is in an almost catastrophic downward spiral...
The state of Kentucky's entire population is only a tad over 4 milion. Two thirds of that population is the area around Louisville, Lexington and the northern area that is a suburb of Cincinnati. This region, while relatively large in square miles, only has an approximate population of 60,000 to 70,000 people. In the past 5 years there have been more than 10,000 mining layoffs... That's right, 10,000! That does not include the trickle down jobs/economics. For example, in October CSX laid off 200 more folks in Corbin, KY form a maintenance facility. That facilities primary focus was coal cars.
The cities and services are suffering. No payroll...no payroll taxes...no revenue to support police, fire, ems, etc.
Obviously the primary culprits of the decline in this industry are Cap & Trade and the recent Obama mandates directed to the EPA. One of more interesting things that I learned (maybe many of you knew this. I did not) is that because the remaining coal fired plants still operating have been required to add scrubbers for emissions, they can now burn much cheaper high-sulfur content coal from far western KY southern Illinois and other areas.
My real point of this is not to debate the politics of the EPA and what is good for the environment, that just is what it is for now. It is to shed some light on what, in my opinion, could potentially be the extinction of a culture...a way of life. These folks have been pretty resilient historically. Coal production has had it's ebbs and flows for decades. This is different.
Economically this region has always had bouts with poverty, that's nothing new. But there have been long periods when things have been very good.
This region has some serious challenges to overcome to attract a new economic driver. The roads are not awful but certainly there are no interstates going in and out. No real airports to speak of. As I mentioned, educationally challenged. Personal healthcare is not a priority so consequently obesity is pretty commonplace. Drugs, primarily meth have taken a pretty strong foot hold...primarily as a result of the current depressed economic sitch (It's not a coincidence that the FX show "Justified" used this region as the backdrop for the show).
I don't know what the future holds for these folks. These are salt of the earth good folks. For the most part people of faith. Content to support themselves and their families. I really don't know how they are going to be able to do that... It doesn't look good as of now.
Sorry for such a depressing thread post. Put driving into that region and working with some of these folks was a real eye opener.
If anyone is interested here is an article from a couple of years ago that kind of sums up eastern Ky and the coal industry with data;http://wfpl.org/hollowed-mountains-now- ... -kentucky/http://wfpl.org/more-data-behind-declin ... -industry/