Date of Completion

Spring 4-28-2021

Thesis Advisor(s)

Stephen L. Ross

Honors Major



Appalachian Studies | Growth and Development


The United States prides itself as a nation that offers equity and opportunity to its citizens. However, in recent decades, regions of relative wealth and poverty have come to define the American landscape. Coastal communities have fared well with consistently declining rates of unemployment and increasing rates of college graduation. In contrast, Central Appalachia, which comprises parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, continues to falter with diverging employment and income levels relative to other areas of the country.

This report discusses the economic history of the Appalachian region and considers three case studies, concentrated in McDowell, Harrison, and Chenango counties, to highlight both economically distressed and promising areas within Appalachia. McDowell County, located in southwestern West Virginia, has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates and the nation’s lowest life expectancy. By contrast, the economic transitions of Harrison County in West Virginia and Chenango County in New York provide a framework for developing a diverse Appalachian economy. Based on findings from these case studies and a comprehensive literature review, the report concludes by proposing a research design to evaluate a place-based economic development initiative’s success in ameliorating low economic outcomes.