By GOV. JOE MANCHIN

CHARLESTON -- Last week, state and local economic development officials, public utility managers and board members, mayors, county executives, state and local environmental representatives, business and community leaders, and citizens came to Charleston for the Appalachian Regional Commission's (ARC) fall conference.

The focus of the 13-state ARC conference was "Back to Basics: Investing in and Improving Appalachia's Future."

As the states' co-chair of the ARC, earlier this year I met with Anne Pope, the federal co-chair, and we determined that our emphasis would be on the long-term benefits to our communities of water and sewer infrastructure, as well as broadband access. The goal of our conference was to explore ways cities and towns throughout the Appalachians can not only build new public facilities, but how to maintain and better manage their existing physical infrastructure.

If we don't learn how to properly maintain our utility systems, then they will fail sooner rather than later, which not only is a waste of taxpayer money, it defeats some of the key goals of the ARC which include creating jobs that and building income in Appalachia to reach parity with the nation. If our infrastructure doesn't meet the needs of our communities – if we don't have water to drink and the proper facilities to dispose of waste – we can't expect to attract new businesses or to retain existing ones.

The goals of the conference mirror my goals to promote the revitalization of West Virginia's communities and downtowns. Throughout West Virginia and the entire Appalachian region, we must provide water and sewer for residential and industrial use, access roads and other infrastructure. And, in today's global economy, we must open our communities to the world by providing high-speed Internet access. My goal for West Virginia is to have our communities – from our cities to our smallest towns -- wired by 2010.

I'm pleased to say we're working hard to do just that. Since I became governor in 2005, we have put more than $15 million of ARC funding to basic water and sewer infrastructure. That has leveraged more than $51 million that has provided new or improved services to more than 6,000 West Virginians. And we have offered other resources from the Small Cities Block Grant program and other state programs to support our infrastructure initiatives.

However, we're far from finished. In West Virginia alone, we have a need for water and sewer construction that totals nearly $3 billion. And so I ask you to join in our effort to build our communities. We cannot attract prosperity to the mountains without the basic infrastructure to allow them to operate. These are the building blocks we must put in place for the future of the region.

Working together, through programs like the ARC, we can continue our efforts to improve the lives and the well being of the people of Appalachia.

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