Many communities in Appalachia face deep structural challenges and systemic inequities after fueling national economic prosperity for generations — at great cost to its economy, health and environment. The region is also impacted by an array of individual and population health challenges, many of them related to cyclical poverty and economic disparities.

At the same time, Appalachia is a region known for its creativity, hard work and long-standing tradition of people helping people. The key to positioning the region for greater growth and transformation lies in Appalachia’s history of collaboration.

Here at UnitedHealth Group, we are committing $10 million over 10 years to Invest Appalachia (IA) through their affiliated Invest Appalachia Fund. The investment is part of a broader $19 million launch for this regional investment initiative, with other major partners including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

IA's regional blended capital platform is designed to accelerate and expand community investment across Central Appalachia. It will also tackle systemic challenges to better the lives of people living in Appalachia. IA serves Appalachian counties in Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

A partnership steeped in innovation

IA takes a 360-degree approach to addressing social determinants of health, strengthening local capacity and supporting the "ecosystem" necessary for businesses and community projects to succeed. IA's approach is also innovative in its multi-sector strategy, with planned investments in the areas of:

  • Clean energy
  • Creative placemaking
  • Community health
  • Food and agriculture

We are excited about upcoming investments in the agriculture and energy sectors where IA will support family farms and energy-efficient grocery stores that provide fresh foods for residents in rural food deserts. 

IA also recently provided a loan to a Black, female-led Community Development Corporation (CDC), a nonprofit developer that aims to revitalize a 60,000-square-foot commercial real estate property in a small mill town in North Carolina that is reinventing its economic identity after decades of decline. The building will serve as an anchor for the community with local businesses and a community space to attract people and additional investments in the community. With six investments expected in the first six months of the IA Fund, these are just two examples of the impactful work ahead.    

Taking aim to reduce disparities

Our collective goal is to invest in an array of Appalachian communities through implementation of a multi-pronged regional strategy focused on:

  • Addressing structural barriers to capital and opportunity
  • Prioritizing investments for people of color, women, displaced workers and at-risk populations
  • Driving capital to low-income communities that have been historically underinvested
  • Supporting local businesses and community ownership
  • Repairing and mitigating environmental impacts on residents
  • Reducing emissions and advancing climate resiliency

Positioning a resilient region for growth

Despite chronic underinvestment (with one-tenth the national average for per capita grantmaking1), Central Appalachia has a strong community investment system with clearly defined capital and capacity gaps. While there is a 20% average poverty ratein the region that affects people of all races, economic disparities disproportionally impacts women and people of color. At the same time, there is a broad regional consensus on the strategies and sectors that can drive inclusive prosperity. We are honored to work side by side with local partners in Appalachia to expand community investment that will drive growth and improve health in Appalachian communities.

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