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March 06, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Opportunities in Appalachia program revitalizes downtowns across the region

Since 2020, the program has supported 58 downtown projects.

On Wednesday, economic development advocates, small business owners, and investors gathered at Pellissippi State Community College in Bluont County for the “Opportunity Appalachia Tennessee Outreach Meeting.”

The Tennessee Economic Community Development (TNECD), University of Tennessee System, Pellissippi State Community College, Blount Partnership, Small Business Development Center, and Appalachian Community Capital joined to host the event. The event was to showcase the collaboration of agencies and abundant resources available to cities, counties, and small business owners in the region.

Six states in the Opportunities in Appalachia program include Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. Since the program started in 2020, it has invested in 58 rural downtown areas. In fiscal year 2024, the program plans to invest between $40-70,000 in an additional 30 projects (totaling about $1.8 million).

Kathryn Coulter-Rhodes, the Program Manager for Opportunities in Appalachia, said they are focused on investing specifically in real estate-based projects. Also, she said those projects need to be investable and satisfy a community need. The funding priority will also go toward at-risk communities.

For example, Real Good Kitchen in East Knoxville is a perfect model for the type of project Opportunities in Appalachia is looking to invest in. Real Good Kitchen is a Food Incubator that fills a direct need in the community – it connects people who are looking to start a food business to a commercial, shared kitchen space.

Another example is the Keyfauver Hotel in downtown Madisonville in Monroe County. A corner building in the downtown sat empty for 50+ years. Using a grant and support from Opportunities in Appalachia, the city can revitalize the hotel, and in-turn generate tourism in the area.

There are a few requirements Opportunities in Appalachia need the project to meet. The program requires a $5,000 match in funding, to show either personal or community backing of the project. There is also a “pay it forward” clause for companies that close on financing within the first three years.

The application is open for projects to apply. It will close on April 12.

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