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Kentucky Highlands Becomes Both 'Promise' And 'Empowerment' Zone

Earlier this month, parts of southeastern Kentucky were named a “Promise Zone” by President Obama. Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton named neighboring parts of the Kentucky Highlands an “Empowerment Zone.”

Both programs target the economically depressed region for extra federal help. But how effective are they? Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti asks Jerry Rickett, a local leader who’s been instrumental in both programs.

Interview Highlights: Jerry Rickett

On the effect of Empowerment Zone

“We took $11 million of the $40 million and put it in a developmental venture capital or revolving loan…. We’ve loaned almost $50 million with that $11 [million]. You know, we lend it, recapture it, re-lend it. And as of January the 15th, companies we had loaned those funds to that are in that empowerment zone area had 3,594 people working. The empowerment zone, when it was originally designated, had just over 27,000 people living in the census tracks that were designated. So that’s a pretty good percentage of the folks… And the poverty rate within the empowerment zone declined from 39.7 percent down to 26.1 percent, which we think is a very significant number for a program like this to impact an area.”

On his hopes for the Promise Zone

“This really gives us a kick start, you know, a rallying point. There’s a lot of enthusiasm when something like this is announced. You know, if you continually monitor your progress and continue to tell the success stories of folks working together to provide employment and improve education, I think we can maintain the enthusiasm.”


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