No. 280

When I was in elementary school down in the small community of Gould, Arkansas we used to heat our school with coal. Out behind the school was a big coal pile and one of the favorite activities for some of the boys was to throw lumps of coal back and forth over the pile to hit someone. It was called a coal fight. One day I didn’t even know there was a fight going on and I walked up on top of the pile and Frankie Flynn let a piece fly that hit me squarely in the nose and blood flew everywhere. Frankie said he didn’t mean to do it and that it was just a lucky shot. Should you look closely you can still see a black speck under the skin and that is where it came from.
What made me recall this incident is something I learned just recently about the community of Logan, West Virginia. More about this in a moment but when I was growing up I never gave a second thought to where the coal that heated our school came from or that thousands and thousands of people in various areas of the country earned their living by mining coal. Since those days I have learned that a good percentage of the coal that was used in home heating and by business and industry came from an area known as Appalachia. The Appalachian Mountain System covers most of the Eastern part of the United States and has made a tremendous contribution to our nation’s economy.
The region contains many types of rock formations of different geologic ages but in the early years of our nation’s history none were more important than coal. The principal coal mining areas were located in Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The reason I am sharing this with you is because the areas economy was more or less tied to this important resource. To say it very simply, coal mining meant jobs and as long as most people had a job life was at least bearable in this mountainous and rugged terrain.
Now fast forward to today when the Environmental Protection Agency has restricted the burning of coal and a Mountain Top Removal Law has been enacted and you will begin to get the picture. When the jobs are gone the people in the region have to make a decision. They can move to another part of the country or they can stay where they grew up, have family and friends and compete for the fewer number of jobs in the area. Just think of what it would be like in your home if the bread winner did not have a job and the prospects were slim for ever getting one. I’m sure you agree that times would be very lean.
There are many communities across our prosperous nation who have a similar story because of high unemployment. Regardless of the reasons, these people are hurting. What’s that old saying, “A recession is when you lose your job but a depression is when I lose mine.” I learned the plight of Logan, West Virginia from some new friends at the Logan Banner newspaper when my column began to run there. This is one of those communities that has been hardest hit and I want you to know that I care about you.
While your unemployment rate is very, very high, plans are underway to bring new jobs to your area. A convention center at Chief Logan State Park is taking shape, the Hatfield-McCoy tourism project holds a good deal of promise and a new medium security prison that may be built in the area is a strong possibility. All of these projects have the potential for new jobs. The real solution however is permanent jobs that are created by private investment capital. These “free enterprise” jobs, where profit is the incentive, do not have to be funded by tax revenue because they are in competition to meet basic needs. (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)