By GOV. JOE MANCHIN

CHARLESTON -- For more than 40 years, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has distinguished itself as a key component in West Virginia's community and economic development efforts.

This unique state and federal partnership has provided a solid foundation for our community and economic development efforts -- a solid base from which we continue to build a better future for all West Virginians.

I am honored to have been selected by the governors of the Appalachian states to serve as ARC States Co-Chair for 2007. Last month, I met with Federal Co-Chair Anne Pope to discuss our action plan for the coming year and it is my intent to focus on the most basic and critical issue impacting all of our Appalachian states -– infrastructure growth and development.

We cannot provide a suitable living environment for our citizens or continue our economic growth without basic infrastructure. While we have made great progress throughout Appalachia, our mission is not complete. All parts of the region have not benefited equally from our economic growth. In some of the most rural areas of the region, per capita income levels remain low and basic services need to be improved.

The combination of economic distress and a lack of infrastructure development continue to pose a significant challenge for states throughout the Appalachian region. During my year as ARC state's co-chairman, I'm issuing a charge to my fellow Appalachian governors to reaffirm our commitment to the development of the most basic infrastructure that plays an integral role in raising the standard of living in our rural distressed counties.

The bottom line is that we must build the economy of Appalachia so that it will grow jobs that endure. The creation of jobs through new investments is critical to the growth of the region. The retention and expansion of existing businesses and companies is just as critical to the future of Appalachia.

One of the most significant achievements of ARC has been the planning of the Appalachian Development Highway System -- a network of highways that has made a tremendous economic impact on the region. To date, more than 2,600 completed miles of this highway system have opened crossroads to commerce across Appalachia -- creating new economic opportunities throughout the region.

Imagine the additional opportunities that could have been created if fiber, utilities and additional infrastructure were laid in place as this highway system was completed.

There is so much more that we can do in our efforts to open this state and region for new economic growth, creating a real sense of economic promise and progress for the future.

Our quality of life depends on the wise stewardship of the land, our commitment to infrastructure growth to support new job growth, and on our wisdom to create an economy that is in harmony with the region we call Appalachia, the place we call home.

Working together, we can achieve this goal.

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