- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

LONDON, Ky. (AP) - Officials say an initiative to improve the economy in southeastern Kentucky has seen successes during its first year.

A statement says the Kentucky Promise Zone has attracted more than $109 million in funding, with investments being made in education, medical facilities, higher education, workforce training and anti-drug initiatives.

The Appalachian Regional Commission awarded a $250,000 grant last year to launch the Promise Zone program in eight counties in southeastern Kentucky: Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox and Whitley. The funding came after President Barack Obama announced that the region was one of five that would be targeted for tax incentives and federal grants under a government “Promise Zone” program.

Under the program, the federal government partnered with communities to create jobs, improve the economy and expand educational opportunities.

According to the statement, some of the accomplishments over the first year include that the Promise Zone received more than $44 million in education grants and $23 million for improvements to the Knox County Hospital, which will save more than 200 jobs. It also saw the announcement that a Japanese company would open a facility in Corbin and saw co-investment from state and federal governments in local companies.

“With input and effort from the entire community, we are well on our way to creating and implementing a sustainable, measurable strategy for the future,” said Jerry Rickett, president & CEO of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, which is coordinating and managing the process. “Our growing number of strong partnerships is a reflection of the commitment and an indication of our likelihood of success.”

Lisa Mensah, Under Secretary for USDA’s Rural Development, says the company is “leading a community-based strategy that will pave the way for Eastern Kentucky’s future.”

“The Promise Zone Initiative empowers USDA and our federal partners to identify resources, build community partnerships and leverage investments to effectively unlock existing local potential so community members have the opportunity to live in safe, healthy, and vibrant communities where there are ladders of opportunity for all,” Mensah said.

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