Editor’s note (8/18) — The previous report stated Rep. Morgan Griffith represented Virginia’s 6th District. Griffith represents the 9th District.

BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – After an 8.9% population drop over the last decade, Southwest Virginia has challenges ahead.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) of Virginia’s 9th District spoke to News Channel 11 regarding what he said is mainly an employment issue.

“We’re well aware that there’s been a trend of rural moving to more urban areas, and with coal jobs going away,” said Griffith. “When you see that happening, you’ve got to expect that you’re going to have some people that leave the area. So what we’ve got to do is replace those jobs with other jobs.”

Griffith said the coal industry’s exit is due in part to regulatory pressure as well as market conditions: natural gas has become cheaper to heat homes and provide power.

A potential lifeline for the area, Griffith said, is the proposed Coalfields Expressway: a 108-mile highway cutting through the mountains between Beckley, West Virginia and Pound, Virginia. The roadway has been pushed since 1990s.