I've spent 35 years reading newspaper articles with ideas about helping coal mining regions (and I even had the romantic notion about that being my destiny out of grad school). Here is the latest:
As Mr. Obama prepares to deliver his annual speech to Congress, he can point to a steadily improving economy. But many Americans say they have seen little benefit from the recovery and complain that the economic deck is stacked against them.
Nobody doubts that this hilly and remote stretch of Appalachia could use the help. The local unemployment rate is 12.8 percent. Drug abuse is rampant. The poverty rate is nearly 26 percent.
But experts are broadly skeptical that any federal initiative would be enough to combat either the immediate economic upheaval caused by the loss of coal jobs or the long-term economic torpor that is a product of remoteness, poor infrastructure and an undereducated work force. ...Despite their modest track record, enterprise zones continue to attract supporters from across the political spectrum. In Kentucky, Mr. Obama’s program has the backing of the Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, and even the assent of one of the country’s most conservative senators, the Republican Rand Paul.
But local workers and officials — even while welcoming any help that towns like Hazard could get — voiced skepticism that there was much the government could do to fundamentally turn around the economy.
Back when Tim and I were at ECU the notion of a "global transpark" was being pushed for Kinston, NC. I was talking about this with a professor from another department who was arguing that it was a great idea that would help the economy of a relatively low-income region. I argued that the net benefits were probably negative, it would only regionally reallocate jobs and it would be cheaper for people to move to where the jobs were (and the economics of migration show how those who move and stay are both better off as a result). The other professor disagreed and said we have to do something, anything, to help low-income areas out (I think, conceding that a global transpark wasn't the greatest idea). I disagree that we have to do something, anything.
You would think that a guy with "Appalachian" in his affiliation (and lots of friends from coal) would have a better answer.