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Appalachian Regional Commission:
After 35 Years

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Bordering the Future

To combat poverty and isolation in Appalachia, President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 formed the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The commission consisted of each of the nine governors of the Appalachian states--Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, and a representative of each of 11 relevant federal departments and agencies: Health, Education and Welfare, Tennessee Valley Authority, Atomic Energy Commission, Small Business Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Area Development Administration, Treasury, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce. The commission's first chairman was Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., son of the late president.

By the late 1970s, the commission's membership grew to 13 states, with the addition of Mississippi, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina, but federal participation changed from representatives of a variety of federal departments to a single federal co-chair appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The federal co-chair was responsible for setting commission policy, leading cooperative activities with other federal agencies, and developing legislative and budget proposals for Congress. The governors of member states were entrusted with developing strategies for local and regional projects and recommending funding priorities.

ARC's structure was designed to ensure federal, state, and local cooperation to address regional needs. The governor of each state establishes commission activities within the state through preparation of an annual investment program.

An ARC strategic plan, approved by the governors and federal co-chairs in 1996, sets forth five goals to assess future funding efforts:

  • to ensure that Appalachian residents will have the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in the world economy in the 21st century;

  • to provide the physical infrastructure necessary for self-sustaining economic development and improved quality of life;

  • to help provide the vision and capacity to mobilize the people and organizations of Appalachia to work together for sustained progress and improvement of their communities;

  • to improve access to financial and technical resources to help build dynamic and self-sustaining economies; and

  • to provide access to affordable, quality health care.

Each ARC member state was required to have a state development plan and associated investment program showing how requested annual federal appropriations would be spent to satisfy the goals.1

By 1998, the commission had given each of the affected states and federal government an unusual opportunity to address challenges regionally. But had the investment of state and federal aid made a difference?

One study concludes that since ARC's formation, conditions in Appalachia have greatly improved and the region has begun catching up with the nation.2 But the same study and other assessments conclude that much remains to be done to lift Appalachia out of poverty.3 Moreover, it is not possible to isolate regional progress and tie gains directly to the commission alone.

After 35 years, ARC remains the only federally designated organization explicitly focused on helping one region of the country improve its economic standing. While there have been attempts to replicate ARC in other economically depressed parts of the nation, none have ever included the Texas Border region.


1 "Appalachian Regional Commission Program," discussion on the State of Tennessee website, Department of Economic and Community Development ( (Internet document.)

2 Andrew M. Isserman, "Appalachia Then and Now: An update of `The Realities of Deprivation' reported to the President in 1964," Socio-Economic Review of Appalachia (National Association of Regional Councils), November 1996.

3 Michael Janofsky, "Pessimism Retains Grip on Region of Poverty," The New York Times on the Web, February 9, 1998 ( (Internet document.)