About the Central Appalachian Network (CAN)
For over 20 years, our network of nonprofits organizations have worked in over 150 counties in the Central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Our diverse organizations employ a variety of strategies that focus on building partnerships, performing research and public education, developing policy and infrastructure, supporting entrepreneurs, providing technical and business assistance, and building value-added assets. CAN and our member organizations are leading the charge in transforming Central Appalachia’s economy by creating economic opportunities that are environmentally sustainable, building on our social and natural capital, and meeting the needs of our region’s people.
CAN recognizes that historically, a complex set of economic, social, environmental, and political factors have prevented the Central Appalachian region from reaching its full economic potential. A lack of economic diversity and the out-of-state ownership of industry, coupled with a lack of investment in the region, have led to a scarcity of economic drivers and a highly uneven distribution of wealth. An undervaluing of education, a lack of local control, continued outgoing migration, and a learned sense of helplessness have led to weakened community capacity and the disenfranchisement of many rural communities. This disenfranchisement, as well as a lack of connection between people and government, has led to the consolidation of political control and ineffective governance in many areas. And finally, the exploitation and short-term valuing of natural resources have led to a degradation of the region’s valuable environmental assets.
Despite these challenges, CAN sees many opportunities for working towards an Appalachian economy that creates wealth that stays local, improves the livelihoods of rural communities, and protects and sustains the natural assets of the region. These opportunities are supported by recent shifts in the public’s understanding of the reality of climate change and other long-term consequences of our unsustainable use of natural resources. More people today understand that centuries of environmental degradation have or will have very real impacts, many of which will be felt most strongly by the most vulnerable, low-income populations. In addition, the recent economic downturn has led many consumers to think more closely about the ways in which they spend money and choose to support their local economies.
This emerging shift in public perception represents an opportunity; it also indicates that the timing is right to promote sustainable economic development in a number of economic sectors. CAN’s position as a regional network allows us to influence the public discourse and capitalize on recent “local” and “green” trends to encourage more long-term awareness and investment in sustainable economic development efforts. In addition, new and emerging markets for sustainable, local products and services provide an opportunity for triple bottom line entrepreneurship, which takes into account economic, social, and environmental factors.
CAN believes that our collaboration allows us to be more than the sum of our parts. CAN member organizations have diverse strengths and areas of expertise, which we each put to use in support of a common vision.