Coal officials ponder future of mining industry in wake of gloomy report

HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - Coal industry officials and economic forecasters are looking for ways to stabilize eastern Kentucky's economy in the wake of new statistics that show coal production in Kentucky down to historically low levels.

The figures from the Ky. Dept. for Energy Development and Independence show coal production in the Commonwealth dropped last year to its lowest level in nearly 50 years.

Officials with the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development said eastern Kentucky leaders are not focusing enough on developing the region's economy outside of coal mining.

"This state doesn't have an Appalachian development strategy," MACED spokeswoman Ivy Brashear said. "And we definitely need a strategy. We need it now and we need it to be ambitious."

Brashear said other sectors of eastern Kentucky's economy could be the answer for laid off coal miners.

"Specifically forestry and local agriculture," Brashear said. "Tourism is also another great sector to invest in. There's also a pretty big healthcare economy."

But some coal officials say the industry simply needs to adapt.

Trey Zimmerman, a coal broker and president of ZZ Energy in Perry County, said, "The people that work in the coal industry are smart. We've got the best mechanics. We've got the best electricians. We've got the best of everything."

Zimmerman said the developing coal market in Europe could help keep eastern Kentucky miners stay in the business.

"I have been working in the last two months about developing a market there," he said. "And I am hoping to have a very good idea in the next two to four weeks and to possible bring some of this business here to the area. I'm very excited about it."

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