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Energizing McDowell will be very difficult

Bless all those who tilt at windmills - most especially including the participants in the ReConnecting McDowell project. The nonprofit is bravely trying to restore a society that has slowly fallen into ruin.

That is not easy to do when the economic reasons for being in McDowell County are no longer there.

Members of the nonprofit met earlier this week to review progress toward their goal of building "a new personal, institutional and programmatic infrastructure for success" for the residents of McDowell.

It's a vague way of expressing the hope of restoring a thriving society.

The nonprofit and other organizations have built relationships with local residents, put together $1 million for literacy centers, extended Internet connections to schools and homes, received $30,000 worth of musical instruments and 4,000 books, as well as funds to dig water lines to two homes that are under construction.

There's a new 10-bed residential substance abuse treatment facility.

But the group had hoped to turn a building in Welch into a modern, comfortable "teachers village" to help McDowell County schools attract the teachers it so badly needs.

That hasn't worked out, so the group is now pursuing a stand-alone building.

President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers told the Daily Mail's Dave Boucher that the economics have to make sense for that project to happen.

That's the problem in a nutshell.

In 1950, with pick-and-shovel mining, the county had almost 99,000 people. By 2012, McDowell County's population was estimated at only 21,326, and aging fast.

In 2010, according to QuickFacts from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income was only $21,967. The per capita money income was only $13,345.

Private nonfarm employment: 2,927 people.

Building permits issued in 2011: 0.

The state owes the seniors of McDowell County the services they need. It owes the children of the county the tools they need to escape the economic desert in which they find themselves.

It's a tall order without a strong economic base on which to build.


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