Governor Jim Justice announced a $1 million investment for the Center for Economic and Community Development for the African American community of Appalachia to be housed at Marshall University during his 2023 State of the State address. The center, which will be run through Marshall University, aims to provide research and data infrastructure to help Black businesses in West Virginia get up and running.
Delegate Shawn Hornbuckle, one of three Black lawmakers in the West Virginia legislature and a graduate of Marshall University, brought the idea to the Justice administration with Dr. Alan Letton of Letton Consulting. Hornbuckle gave his support for the center, stating that it would serve as a model that could be extended to other underserved communities in the state, particularly in the southern coalfields.
However, the announcement was met with minimal applause from the crowd. The Governor directed the crowd to offer Delegate Hornbucke a standing ovation while the idea and need for investment in African American was met with silence.
Concerns have been raised that the investment is small compared to the $600 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funding that Governor Justice announced would go towards an investment fund and water and sewer projects. WV State NAACP Vice President, Katonya Hart, pointed out that minorities in West Virginia, particularly Black West Virginians, face much higher poverty rates than the rest of the population, with one in three living in poverty and that the Black community needs significant funding, beyond the one million dollar investment.
Despite this, Delegate Hornbuckle expressed trust in Governor Justice to deliver the funding for the new center and said that the Governor mentioned ARPA when they met on Tuesday, the 10th of January. It should be noted that the $1 million investment for the Center for Economic and Community Development for the African American community of Appalachia is only .075 percent of the $1.335 billion West Virginia received in ARPA funds, and the only funding that the Governor has announced publicly designated to the Black community.
Additionally, data from the Herb Henderson Office of Minority Affairs (HHOMA), who in partnership with the Office of Governor Jim Justice, traveled to all 55 West Virginia counties for a listening tour focused on how the ARPA funding could address the needs of the community, remains a mystery.
Delegate Hornbuckle stated that he was unaware of the mission of the Herb Henderson Office to acquire this input for ARPA funding.