CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- How do you define "wealth"? How does a community accumulate wealth?
These are questions that many communities struggle with on a routine basis, particularly rural communities in Appalachia. Much of the economic development in the central Appalachian region brought industrial job growth but neglected the development of people, communities, and the natural and cultural assets of the region.
To prosper in the future, people in Appalachia must invest in themselves and their communities. Our nonprofit, for-profit, and government organizations will need to link together around common objectives. Appalachian people need to treat innovative projects as business investments by seizing smart risks, taking chances, and believing in our community.
We are rich in human capital across central Appalachia. There are countless people working each day to improve local communities across the region. The more we collaborate and the stronger we make our networks, then the greater return we will see in our investments within the region.
Investing within our region can take multiple forms. According to Dr. Alison F. Davis of the University of Kentucky, there are several ways we can help Appalachia transition to a new economy. One is to focus on long-term investments in local communities (health care, education) rather than on spending (disability, welfare). We can also attract new businesses or industry by investing in people, building their capacity, and making our communities more livable.
Dr. Davis also notes that in most Appalachian states, new jobs are more likely to come from existing businesses that grow or expand rather than from new businesses. However, small business development's struggle to access capital and inadequate health care for the working class are major challenges in rural Appalachia that deter economic growth.
The largest economic growth across Appalachia has been in financial services, education and health services, and professional and business services. In order to build upon this growth, Appalachian people must invest in infrastructure, civic engagement, leadership development, access to quality health care and education, and natural and built amenities before we can expect the jobs to come. The first step is understanding that these investments are forms of community wealth.
The Ford Foundation's Wealth Creation in Rural Communities Initiative is based on a framework of seven forms of community wealth that are critical to family and community well-being:
1. Individual capital -- skills, health, capacity.
2. Intellectual capital -- knowledge, innovation, creativity.
3. Social capital -- trust and relationships.
4. Political capital -- political influence.
5. Natural capital -- natural resources.
6. Built capital -- infrastructure.
7. Financial capital -- investment and savings.
Each form of wealth can be targeted for development and measured as an outcome of success. A rural development process aimed at building many forms of wealth, which are tied to place, is more likely to create rural livelihoods that are sustainable over the long term, and more likely to benefit the many rather than the few.
In order to benefit people in the region, we must develop a systems approach that looks at inputs, production, processing, distribution, consumers and policies. The approach should focus on place, in our case Appalachia, and the area's unique strengths and challenges. Recognizing the assets inherent in a particular place and respecting and building on the work people are already doing there will help incentivize collaboration and emphasize local ownership. Lastly, we must build and maintain multiple forms of wealth.
We stand at a crossroads. For too long, the resources and assets of rural communities -- their natural resources, agricultural bounty, healthy workers, and young people -- have flowed out of rural areas to other places. We have struggled to create wealth that stays local. Rural America needs to embrace a new way forward that builds sustainable livelihoods for our families and communities. To achieve this sustainability, people in Appalachia must work to ensure that the forms of wealth we already have stay here and also build the forms of wealth we lack.
Ceperley is president and CEO of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation.