Promise Zone coordinator addresses Harlan County Chamber of Commerce

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The Harlan County Chamber of Commerce heard an update from Promise Zone Coordinator Sandi Curd during the Chamber’s regular meeting for September.

Curd provided the Chamber with information on the Rural Partner Network, a designation aimed at assisting nonprofit organizations and local governments with the federal government grant process.

“It’s good to be here. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to meet with you guys,” Curd said. “I think it was before the pandemic.”

Curd first provided some recent information on the Promise Zone designation.

“We have supported 608 applications for funding,” Curd said. “That money, if awarded, will be in the eight counties of the Promise Zone. Those eight counties are Bell, Clay, Harlan, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Perry, and Whitley counties. We also have 102 partners that have agreed to participate in our Promise Zone.”

Curd said since 2014, $1.3 billion was announced to be invested in the zone. She explained why the investment had not made more of an impact.

“If you go back to 2014 and look at the number of coal mining jobs that existed in our area, then multiply that by the indirect jobs in one year the change in the industry resulted in the loss of $1 billion a year,” Curd explained. “Now, here we are ten years out, and we’ve just been able to identify an investment of $1 billion the going out was ten times bigger than we’ve managed to put back in.”

Curd explained the Promise Zone designation will end in January of 2024.

“However, a new opportunity availed itself last year,” Curd said. “We jumped on it with the very same footprint. The USDA Rural Development said we want to create the Rural Partner Network, and you can apply to be this if you are a distressed city, distressed county or distressed community network.”

According to the Rural Partners Network website, it is a of government program designed to assist rural communities in locating funding and resources for job creation, building infrastructure, and supporting long-term term economic stability.

“At Kentucky Highlands, we submitted an application to have Kentucky Highlands Rural Partner Community Network, involving the same footprint of the Promise Zone, the same partners of the Promise Zone, and we were awarded it,” Curd said. “Did it come with a pot of money? No. However, what it did do was it gave Kentucky USDA Rural Development the opportunity to hire two full-time community liaisons whose job it is to hold our hands as we navigate the federal government.”

Curd pointed out that the liaisons will make locating grants much easier. She pointed out that local governments and nonprofit organizations may benefit from the RPN.

“What I’m hoping you all will do is share with them (local governments and nonprofits) this opportunity,” Curd said.

Curd said local governments and nonprofit organizations should reach out to Rural Development to inquire about the program.

For more information on the Rural Partners Network, go to or contact Kentucky Highlands at (606) 864-5175.