In Kentucky’s Dying Coalfields, Can Mining Jobs Be Transformed Into Sustainable Jobs?

Gwendolyn Christon, the 61-year-old owner of the IGA grocery store in Isom, Kentucky, has been working at the store since she graduated high school in 1973. This fact—plus her honeyed voice and warm nature—goes a long way toward explaining the effortless rapport she has with her customers. From her store’s local produce to its fresh fried chicken—the kitchen crew starts cooking every day at 5:30 a.m.—Christon’s IGA is a community hub: It serves 5,500 customers a week and employs 25 people. Christon considers these workers family, and she takes seriously her role in helping them make a living. She also saw jobs in the area disappearing, and that fewer jobs meant lower sales. So when she began looking closely at her profit-and-loss reports for a way to stay viable as sales shrank, her eyes went straight to the store’s $11,000 monthly electric bill.

To solve the problem, she met with Les Roll, the enterprise development project specialist at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), a 40-year-old Appalachian advocacy group based a couple hours away in Berea. She had learned about a MACED program, Energy Efficient Enterprises, that does energy-efficiency retrofits on commercial buildings. Roll told Christon they could loan her the money to do the upgrade. Christon was incredulous that such a good deal was possible, but sure enough, with a $418,000 loan from MACED, she retrofitted her lighting system in 2015 and the HVAC this year, tasks that involve energy-saving changes like swapping in high-performance lighting and installing programmable thermostats. When the loan is paid off—she’s aiming to have it done in 10 years—Christon will clear an extra $3,300 in profit each month.

Read more (Fast Company)