As noted by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), “Appalachia stands to reap substantial economic gains from the increase in foreign trade, especially with Latin America. However, failure to invest in the transportation infrastructure necessary to maintain the Region’s competitive stance and its ability to connect with the global supply chain, will result in lost economic and employment opportunities.” Appalachia has unfortunately always faced transportation challenges due to its geological makeup and sparsely populated areas.
In the early 1800’s, the National Road (aka Cumberland Road) was built by the federal government and connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. In the mid 1800’s, the rail system proved to be a giant leap forward for transportation but still left many areas in the region secluded.
Even still, after 1) the Good Roads Movement (formed in the 1880’s), 2) the auto trail system (early 1900s) and eventually 3) the highway system (1926), many of the roads in Appalachia were narrow, winding and composed of dirt or gravel. This turned them into mud during winter and dust in the summer. With only two lanes that snaked through the mountains or the valleys, they were slow to drive, unsafe and worn out.
When Eisenhower initiated construction of the National Interstate, it primarily served the cross-country traffic and did little to assist those who lived in the mountainous interior. However, effective progress was made in 1965 when the ARC created the Appalachian Development Highway System. This development connected the region to the National Interstate, resulting in economic growth to the area.
Appalachia has since had any major changes in our transportation structure and this not only hinders our future economic growth but also our current economic stability.
Today, food suppliers in Appalachia still struggle to get their products to market due to the burden of the increased and often challenging distance between them and the buyers. This distance usually requires an enormous investment in managing and operating the transportation necessary to connect these pieces in a supply chain.
This makes it difficult to find independent long term financial sustainability; therefore, the most efficient way to obtain sustainability in rural Appalachia is to foster collaboration with other food hubs, farmers, and buyers that could leverage existing infrastructure and routes. Logistics are often cited as one of the key barriers to food entrepreneurs accessing large, lucrative markets for their products.
By Derrick Von Kundra