ARC is hitting the road to further showcase the five goals of our 2022-2026 strategic plan, Appalachia Envisioned. At Stop #4, we’ll focus on building Appalachia’s infrastructure. This event will feature governors, economic development leaders, and community members from Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia who are excited to share their experiences providing access to reliable and affordable utilities and infrastructure to Appalachian residents and businesses.
Critical Infrastructure: The Foundation of Appalachian Communities
This stop began with an engaging opening session featuring two panel discussions. First, ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin and Governors Andy Beshear (Kentucky), Mike DeWine (Ohio), and Glenn Youngkin (Virginia) discussed infrastructure investments in their states’ Appalachian communities. Federal Co-Chair Manchin was then joined by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, where they discussed the importance of federal infrastructure investments in the Appalachian Region.
Gayle Conelly Manchin was sworn in as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s thirteenth federal co-chair on May 6, 2021, becoming the first ARC federal co-chair from West Virginia. Nominated by President Biden, Manchin works directly with ARC’s 13 member governors, their state alternates and program managers, and a network of local development districts to continue to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth throughout Appalachia. An alumna of West Virginia University, Manchin worked as an educator in Marion County Schools, served on the faculty of Fairmont State University, and was the director of the university’s first Community Service Learning Program. She directed the AmeriCorps Promise Fellows in West Virginia between 2000-2004 and implemented a statewide initiative, WV Partnerships to Assure Student Success. Manchin previously served as West Virginia’s First Lady between 2005-2010 and was appointed to serve as a member of the State Board of Education, serving her last two years as president. She was the chair of the Board for Reconnecting McDowell, Inc., an AFT initiative serving rural West Virginia, is a past president of the Vandalia Rotary Club of Charleston, and was an emeritus member of The Education Alliance. She also served as cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Office of Education and the Arts.
Pete Buttigieg serves as the 19th Secretary of Transportation, having been sworn in on February 3, 2021. His focus as Secretary is to deliver the world’s leading transportation system for the American people and economy. He has worked to achieve organizational excellence in the department’s operations, and to focus the department on five policy goals: safety, jobs, equity, climate, and innovation. In his first year at the Department, he prioritized supporting the development and passage of President Biden’s signature Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Since the law’s passage, Secretary Buttigieg and his team have focused on effectively delivering the investments provided by this legislation, enabling the most significant improvements in U.S. transportation infrastructure in over half a century.The Secretary has also focused on intervening to support American supply chains dealing with shockwaves from the pandemic, including measures to help cut in half the long-dwelling container congestion at America’s largest ports. Other major initiatives in his early tenure have included a comprehensive national roadway safety strategy to reduce deaths and serious injuries; delivery of emergency COVID-19 relief funds to transit agencies across America; and awards of over $9.5 billion in discretionary funding to enhance transportation through over 800 projects in communities across America. The first openly gay person confirmed to serve in a president’s Cabinet, Secretary Buttigieg previously served two terms as mayor of his hometown, South Bend, Indiana, where he worked across the aisle to transform the city’s future.
Andy Beshear was sworn in as Kentucky’s Governor in December 2019. A native of north-central Kentucky, Governor Beshear graduated from Vanderbilt University, and earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was a Dean’s Scholar. His early career began while he was working at an international law firm in Washington, D.C., before moving back to Kentucky to continue his legal career at Stites & Harbison where he was recognized as the nation’s top consumer lawyer by Lawyer Monthly. In his role as Kentucky’s 50th Attorney General, Beshear fought against the opioid epidemic, creating the Kentucky Opioid Disposal Program to remove unused opioids from Kentuckians’ homes. The Office of the Attorney General, under Beshear, also arrested record numbers of child predators and trained thousands of Kentuckians on how to recognize and report child abuse and human trafficking. Beshear has worked on a variety of critical issues from protecting access to health care and seeking justice for victims of sexual assault, to higher education and pensions. Beshear serves as the 2023 ARC States’ Co-Chair.
Governor Mike DeWine was elected as Ohio’s 70th Governor in November 2018. With a background in a small family business, DeWine’s political career has included serving as Greene County Prosecutor, Ohio State Senator, U.S. Congressman, Ohio Lt. Governor, U.S. Senator, and most recently, Ohio’s 50th Attorney General. As Governor, his priorities include addressing the state’s opioid crisis, and focusing on the health, welfare, and education of Ohio’s children. He served as ARC’s 2020 states’ co-chair.
Governor Glenn Youngkin is a homegrown Virginian who grew up in Richmond and Virginia Beach. As his father changed jobs, Governor Youngkin learned that moving around didn’t equal moving up – nothing was handed to him. From his first job washing dishes and frying eggs at a diner in Virginia Beach, he embraced hard work and responsibility to help his family when his father lost his job. His determination to succeed earned him multiple high school basketball honors in Virginia and an athletic scholarship to college. After earning an engineering degree at Rice University, and his MBA at Harvard Business School, Governor Youngkin and his wife Suzanne moved to Northern Virginia. He landed a job at The Carlyle Group, where he spent the next 25 years. Working his way to the top of the company, Governor Youngkin played a key role in building Carlyle into one of the leading investment firms in the world. His efforts have helped fund the retirements of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other frontline public servants and supported hundreds of thousands of American jobs.
Appalachia’s Infrastructure Opportunities and Challenges
This community-focused session kicked off with a video highlighting critical infrastructure investments in Appalachian Ohio. Experts from Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia then shared their experiences and successes on the frontlines of this critical work throughout the Region.
Molly Theobald serves as Director of Critical Infrastructure at ARC, which manages the Commission’s portfolio of projects that impact the built environment, including water, sewer, broadband, transportation and tourism projects. Molly has over 20 years of working in community and economic development, and previously worked in tourism development for the TVA, in housing development for private industry, and as a neighborhood planner for a CDFI in Philadelphia.
Michael “Mike” Graese (pronounced Gray-Zee) has served as the City Manager of Ashland, Kentucky since August 2017; he is an ICMA-CM (International City Manager Association- Credentialed Manager). Mike retired from the U.S. Army in July 2017 as a Colonel after 33 total years of service; he began his Army career as a Private in the Kentucky National Guard. He holds an undergraduate degree from Eastern Kentucky University and Masters’ Degrees from both Troy State University and the United States Marine Corps War College. His Army career included extensive experience in Air Defense Artillery and installation (city) management. He served as a Garrison Commander (the equivalent of a City Manager) for a total of six years split between Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He concluded his military career as the Executive Officer (Chief of Staff) to the three star General responsible for policy and resourcing of 156 garrisons worldwide. He resides in Ashland, Kentucky with his wife Francie, a born and raised native of Ashland. They have three adult sons, three daughters-in-law, and two grandchildren.
Troy Graft is the Chief Deputy Sanitary Engineer for Columbiana County, Ohio. Graft has been employed by the County since 1996. He currently oversees the operation and maintenance of the Water and Sewer Department, which includes nine wastewater treatment plants, 22 pump stations, and more than 52 miles of sanitary sewer lines. Graft is also responsible for overseeing the County Bridge Department and the inspections, maintenance, rehab, and replacement projects for the 294 bridges in Columbiana County. He is a Registered Professional Engineer in the state of Ohio. Graft received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Arizona State University after serving in the United States Coast Guard.
Rebecca Crockett currently serves as Deputy Director of the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission, a regional economic and community development organization serving far-southwestern Virginia. Throughout her 18-year career at LENOWISCO, Rebecca has managed dozens of water, sewer, housing, and revitalization projects, and has led training and support teams for communities throughout Southwest Virginia. She earned her Business Administration degree from Lincoln Memorial University in 1984 and immediately began her career in management for private industry. In 2005, she joined LENOWISCO and was responsible for managing Community Development Block Grant and Appalachian Regional Commission projects. Working her way through the ranks as Project Management Specialist and Director of Project Management, she has been LENOWISCO’s Deputy Director since 2018.
Curtis Hansen is a program manager at the Appalachian Regional Commission, where he helps lead the organization’s efforts to close the digital divide by expanding broadband access throughout Appalachia. Curtis has worked as an engineer for over ten years, most recently at an internet service provider where he led broadband planning efforts for fiber and cellular networks in some of the most rural and remote parts of the United States and the Caribbean. Prior to his work in rural broadband, Curtis served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force where he was an R&D Program Manager. Curtis holds a bachelors degree in Systems Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in International Development at American University.
Elizabeth Gillum was born in Eastern Kentucky and attended Morehead State University. She has a passion for community service and broadband access. After graduating, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA for Shaping Our Appalachian Region, an Eastern Kentucky think-tank working to fill the gaps left by the decline of the coal industry. She is currently the Digital Navigator for SOAR where she works to bridge the digital literacy gap in six rural communities by promoting the Affordable Connectivity program and providing access to digital skills training and devices.
Ryan Collins lived a majority of his young life in Columbus before moving to Appalachian Ohio in 2004. It was in Appalachia that Collins would grow to become who he is today and truly fall in love with the region. While at Sheridan High School, Collins grew to enjoy Public Policy and governmental work. He was able to attend Buckeye Boy’s State in the summer of 2010 where he was the head of the Legislative Services Commission and wrote several pieces of mock legislation while within the program. This, along with his mother’s 30 plus years of nonprofit work, inspired him to attend Capital University. In May 2016, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Fueled by a passion to help and serve others Collins started his career working with Godman Guild as the Administrator for their Summer Workforce Development program. Following the summer program with Godman Guild, Collins worked a few odd jobs before finding his way back to Workforce Development with Greenleaf Job Training Services. With Greenleaf, he worked as an Employment Specialist where he developed, trained, and supervised multiple teams of interns in Project SEARCH programs throughout Franklin and Licking counties. Outside of Project SEARCH, Collins worked with individuals with disabilities within the community to find, obtain, and maintain community employment. In the summer of 2021 Collins found an opportunity to give back to the Appalachian region that had made him who he is and to help communities whose needs were further exasperated by the Covid-19 pandemic. He jumped on this opportunity and joined Buckeye Hills Regional Council as Special Projects Manager – Broadband Coordinator and now serves as Program Manager for both ARC and Broadband projects. Ryan lives in Athens, OH with his partner, Sierra, and their two cats (children) Midna and Saturn.
Tamarah Holmes, Ph.D., is the director for the Office of Broadband at DHCD and has been in the role since September 2019. She has spent 20 years in the public sector in the field of community and economic development in New York, New Jersey, and Chesterfield, Virginia. Dr. Holmes has played an instrumental role in the creation of the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative (VATI) having served as the lead in the development of the program that has grown from a $1 million to a $750 million appropriation since 2017. Prior to her current role, she was the Associate Director for the Policy and Strategic Development office in the Community Development Division at DHCD. In addition to serving as broadband director, she serves as the Virginia Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) program manager, overseeing ARC’s economic and community development programming in 25 counties and 8 independent cities in the Appalachian region of Virginia. Dr. Holmes holds a master’s degree in urban planning and analysis with a concentration in housing and community development. She received her doctorate in public policy and administration from Virginia Commonwealth University, located in Richmond, VA.