Coal Tattoo

President Obama on helping the coalfields

President Barack Obama, right, listens to Charleston Police Chief, Brent Webster, front along with Dr. Michael Brumage, left, Cary Dixon, second from left, during an event at the East End Family Resource Center in Charleston, W.Va., Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. Obama is in Charleston to to host a community discussion on the prescription drug abuse and heroin epidemic. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

President Barack Obama, right, listens to Charleston Police Chief, Brent Webster, front along with Dr. Michael Brumage, left, Cary Dixon, second from left, during an event at the East End Family Resource Center in Charleston, W.Va., Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015.(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

There’s a lot of coverage in the Gazette-Mail about President Obama’s visit to Charleston yesterday to explore ways to help the state (and the country) deal with drug addiction’s terrible toll on our communities.

Coal Tattoo readers will want to check out this story by Joel Elbert, which includes details of the “rally” against President Obama’s coal policies and also this exclusive interview the Gazette-Mail’s David Gutman did with the president.

David asked this question:

Well, Mr. President, this opioid crisis has kind of affected small cities and towns across rural America particularly hard. In West Virginia, that’s cities like Oceana and Williamson that are struggling with disappearing coal jobs, but there’s cities and towns all across the country dealing with this and at the same time hollowed-out downtowns and joblessness, so I’m wondering what do you see as the future for these small cities and towns that are maybe seeing major industries disappear, in terms of both beating this drug problem but also turning around local economies that kind of help fuel the drug problem?

The president responded:

Well, as you heard me say on stage, this substance abuse and addiction problem cuts across communities and demographics, but if a community is weakened, then it just has less resistance to this kind of epidemic.

And, you know, one of the things that we are really emphasizing is strategies to help local communities come up with a plan to diversify their economies, to invest in the kinds of strategies that are going to bring new businesses into their communities, to help retrain workers for the industries of the future rather than the industries of the past.

And, you know, we’ve seen successes around the country with concentrated effort, but it is particularly acute in a place like West Virginia, where you’ve got a lot of communities that were reliant on one particular industry, like coal, or one particular factory.

And part of our goal here is to help community leaders re-imagine new industries coming in that are more on the growth side. In my budget, we’ve got a program called POWER Plus and the whole purpose of it would be to give additional dollars to communities that have been adversely impacted by the decline of coal jobs, so that they can start looking at health care, high-tech, clean energy jobs.

There’s been a resurgence in manufacturing in America, how do we start looking at some of the more streamlined, high-tech manufacturing that’s taking place and get it into places like this?

But it’s going to be a long process. You know the decline in some of these local, rural economies didn’t happen overnight. Its resurgence will not happen overnight, but it can happen.

In the meantime we’ve got to make sure that our kids aren’t getting exposed to the kinds of debilitating drug problems that obviously are personal tragedies for them and their families but are also taking away a valuable resource for economic development.