The Appalachian Prosperity Project (APP) is a collaborative project that seeks to advance education, health, and economic prosperity in the Appalachian region. The Appalachian Prosperity Project (APP) is a collaborative partnership among the University of Virginia, UVa’s College at Wise, the Virginia Coalfield Coalition, the private sector, and the state to advance education, health, and economic prosperity in Southwest Virginia. APP uses a systems approach to integrate these three components to increase the quality of life and business climate in Southwest Virginia.
The three components (education, health, economy) of the APP system have practical community based themes that serve as metrics for advancement, have outcomes that are correlated, and can assist with community leadership and capacity building. The following is a general overview of the APP research agenda themes, focusing on relevant applications
Rural schools are often at the center of the community, in many cases providing more than just public education for area’s youth. Schools can serve as community centers, vocational skills and job training sites, and sources of basic health care. Rural schools are especially important because they anchor a community culturally, provide a close links in a community, and can have exceptional educational outcomes. Data related to education can also be compared with other schools in the region or state to establish a benchmark and metrics for improvement.
Economic diversification is often the issue that smaller communities struggle with the most. Small communities depending on a single economy may be at risk/have fewer resources to deal with the loss of a local industry or decline in a national or international market. During economic restructuring, communities may confront poverty, lack of investment in infrastructure and development, a shortage of housing supply, and reductions in tax revenue. APP’s research examines how to attract new employers to the region, maintain the competitiveness of existing companies and inspire innovation, practices that could transfer to other small towns and communities.
Health and well being are essential to building an educated and capable workforce is central to a strong quality of life. Public health indicators and health outcomes are important metrics of quality of life anywhere, but particularly in small communities where access to healthcare may be limited. Innovative practices and methods of delivery can be studied in the Appalachian region and applied to similar communities.
Finally, all of these applications rely on an asset approach to community development and require the skills of resident, capacity building of local associations and governments, and regional cooperation be at work. Further, Southwest Virginia communities have a rich cultural heritage that is overlooked or under-valued as it relates to schools, economic prosperity and health. Traditions such as food, recreation, music, art, or dance can be both a sense of pride for a community and foundations for revitalizing smaller communities.
Southwest Virginia is an area of small towns and villages. Defined by their distinct cultures and assets, these small towns are the organizing unit for the APP partnerships. Although communities face some specific challenges, the APP’s areas of focus can be applied to other small communities throughout the United States. All are hard hit by demographic changes, economic restructuring, and an out migration of their most valuable resources—the younger generation. APP’s research efforts can provide a foundation for small communities looking for best practices, technical assistance, and civic engagement.