Responding to Economic Distress: The Role of Regional Commissions

Economically distressed communities (i.e., places with persistently high levels of poverty and unemployment) exist everywhere in the US, but they are also heavily concentrated in a few specific regions, such as Central Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and our Southern Border regions.  Recognizing the concentration of challenges in these regions, Congress has chartered a number of regional commissions that focus resources to assist these wider regions.  The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) are best known (NOTE:  EntreWorks Consulting has worked on numerous projects for ARC and DRA), but we also have smaller commissions such as the Northern Border Regional Commission, the Denali Commission (Alaska), and the new Southeast Crescent Regional Commission

A new Brookings Institution study examines the work of these entities, with a special focus on how they define and respond to economic distress. The report is fairly technical as it discusses the role of economic distress definitions and related program responses.  But, it also recognizes the important role that these regional commission play.  By emphasizing clear definitions of regional economic distress, the commissions can effectively target resources and build essential capacity in underserved communities.  The report authors also offer some useful guidance on how improved distress criteria can lead to more comprehensive and hopefully proactive policy responses that contribute to long term economic recovery.