Northam joined by governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania for regional conference in Southwest Va.

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ST. PAUL, Va. (WJHL) – Governor Northam, along with representatives from 13 states, were in St. Paul, Virginia Tuesday to launch 2021’s Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Conference.

Governors Larry Hogan of Maryland and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania were also in attendance.

The commission met to enact and discuss a new five-year strategic plan, which stressed five key investment goals: Business development/entrepreneurship, workforce development, physical infrastructure, culture and tourism, as well as leadership and capacity building.

“We’ve helped communities survive,” Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, Gayle Manchin, said during the meeting. “It’s time we helped these communities thrive.”

Expanded broadband capabilities continues to be a pressing issue for the commission and the communities it serves. Governor Northam called broadband a “necessity” and reiterated his promise to give Virginians universal access to broadband by 2024.

Northam also stressed the stimulation and growth of businesses, and the human element that goes along with it.

“When we talk about bringing businesses and helping businesses grow in Appalachia — it’s important to have a talented workforce,” he said. “It’s going to be important as we move forward, as well.”

Tourism also tops the list of investment and growth opportunities in Appalachia.

“If you want people who live in an area to appreciate it — you need to bring people from the outside in to appreciate it,” Governor Wolf said.

“It’s a great economic driver and getting more people to come out and appreciate the natural beauty is going to bring more dollars into the town,” Governor Hogan said.

According to Manchin, the House and Senate Appropriation Committees have approved legislation to provide $210 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission in 2022. That is a $30 million increase from the 2021 fiscal year. It’s an increase that will become a reality, as long as the legislation passes into law.

The commission believes now is an opportune time to put a plan in place.

“We’re looking forward to having opportunities this year that we haven’t had before and we may never have again,” Manchin said. “So, we want to take advantage of making sure we’re very strategic and that we’re collaborative, that our states work together.”

Manchin also mentioned the possibility of an additional $1 billion investment over the next five years. Those funds are reliant the current bipartisan infrastructure package being debated in Washington.

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