The new co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission may be familiar – as is one of her goals for the people of the mountains.
Gayle Manchin and the ARC both have their roots in West Virginia. “John F. Kennedy came to West Virginia, and there were no highways in 1960 when he was campaigning for president," Manchin said during a stop in Asheville Wednesday. "And he said a state can’t grow if it doesn’t have highways.”
President Kennedy pushed for the Appalachian Regional Commission, which was formally created in 1965 after his assassination. More than 50 years later, the federal agency which offers funding to counties in 13 states within the mountain range wants to connect them further to the rest of the country.
“Our new highway system that we’re challenged with is broadband. People wherever you live have got to be able to connect with the rest of the world,” said Manchin. Her tour Wednesday of East Fork Pottery's manufacturing site was her first stop in Asheville since the wife of West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin became the commission's co-chair in May. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is the other co-chair.
Buncombe County, home to Asheville where Manchin toured Wednesday, is one of just five North Carolina counties (read study here) in the ARC service area that have a percentage of households with a broadband internet connection higher than the average for the entire Appalachian region, which is 77.8%. The others are Davie, Henderson, Transylvania, and Watauga Counties. Only Davie and Watauga Counties in North Carolina’s ARC area top the national average (82.7%).