This week’s post is very near and dear to my heart.
I lived in Lee County most of life, growing up in the tiny town of Pennington Gap. Pennington Gap has just seventeen hundred residents, making it about the half the size of Wise. While always a small town, it was less than twenty years ago (I still remember these days) that Pennington Gap boasted several mom-and-pop department stores, two family owned diners with some of the finest breakfast cuisine I’ve ever come across, and a coffeeshop that featured live music every Friday and Saturday night. Today, Pennington is a shell of its former self, with 31.3 percent of its residents living below the poverty line and a large number of people struggling with addiction to oxycontin and other prescription pain medications as well as mental illness. The only other towns in Lee County are Jonesville, the county seat, which has a population of around 900, and Saint Charles, once a major boomtown in the glory days of the coal industry, but now, with only three mines still operating, a nearly deserted ghost town with a population of only 159 souls and a per-capita income of only $10,133 according to the 2010 U.S. census. The rest of the county is made up of communities that were once considered towns but have lost any viable means to sustain their own governments or communities that were never large enough to gain township status in the first place. Either way, we call these places “unincorporated areas:” Dryden, Ben Hur, Rose Hill, Ewing, Flatwoods, Woodway, Stickleyville.
The bottom line here is that my home county is suffering a full-blown depression, never mind the recession of 2008. The Lee County Depression has been building for for at least four decades since since the end of the 1970s, and has only gotten worse as time has passed. The economic meltdown of 2008 that brought on recession for the rest of the country was only the cherry on an already melted sundae.
But there is hope for change.
I was made aware yesterday that a start-up company called GreenUSA is attempting to build a major recycling facility on the western end of Lee County. If this facility becomes a reality, it could potentially bring up to 250 jobs to Lee County, jobs which are much needed and would bring a boost to the county’s nearly-dead economy. Such a company would also bring a much needed image boost to Lee County, and would hopefully show other counties in southwest Virginia that there are other economic opportunities that should be pursued and considered besides big coal.
The company is facing opposition from some members of the community, yet other than hearsay and speculation, I have not been able to find out the specific nature of their concerns though I have attempted to contact one of the people opposed to the building of the facility via Facebook. I have not yet had a response from her.
I contacted the Lee County Industrial Development Authority via e-mail to voice my support for the project, and I have been urging others from Lee County to do the same. I was told via e-mail by a Lee IDA employee that while they were optimistic about the project, there were still several hurdles to clear.
For more information about the project and Lee County, you can visit the links below.