Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development

Scott Adkins

November 18, 2021 Coalfield Development Season 1 Episode 27
Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development
Scott Adkins
Transcript
Brandon Dennison:

All right, this is Change in the Coalfields. My name is Brandon, I'm your host. I'm founder and CEO of Coalfield Development. I'm so excited. This week we have Scott Adkins, who is the Director of Workforce West Virginia. Workforce development is part and parcel of what Coalfield Development, my organization is all about. So this is one I've been really excited about. Scott is a leader in the state that I have a ton of respect for. And Scott, really appreciate your time today.

Scott Adkins:

Oh, you're welcome. Glad to be here, Brandon.

Brandon Dennison:

So did you grow up in West Virginia?

Scott Adkins:

Actually, I did. It's kind of ironic. We're having this conversation. I grew up in Logan County. I lived in Buffalo Creek, prior to the 1972 flood, which many of your listeners may remember in February of 1972. My father was a coal miner, worked in the coal industry for nearly 50 years.

Brandon Dennison:

Wow.

Scott Adkins:

[He] actually lied about his age, when he was 15 years old. So he could go to work he had a big family. Lots of folks, you know, back in the 40s, were like that. And so he was able to go to work in the coal industry and had a great career. It was a great opportunity for him to support his family and to provide for me and my siblings. So 40, 44 plus years with Island Creek Coal Company in Logan County. After 1972, the Buffalo Creek flood. We moved to the other end of Logan County, to Chapmanville. So I grew up there, attended Marshall University undergraduate, have a Master's in environmental sciences. I taught school for about four or five years, Brandon, and then saw an opportunity to go to work with my dad's company. He had nothing but glowing things to say about Island Creek Coal Company. And so there was an opportunity for me to join the organization. I did that, I pursued a master's in Environmental Engineering, and worked as environmental engineer for Island Creek Coal Company, subsequently purchased by Console Energy for about 15 years, and spent most of that time working in Eastern Kentucky, coalfields and southern West Virginia. When Console purchased when Occidental Petroleum sold Island Creek Coal Company, it was sold to Console Energy, which is based out of Pittsburgh, I was shipped to St. Louis for about three years and had the opportunity to work in the Midwest, in the southwest part of the country dealing with coal mining, with mining and coal extraction. So hey, you know, I can really appreciate some of the challenges that you folks deal with in your organization, and trying to get folks retooled, re-skilled re-trained, that have left the coal industry for the past, I would say 15 years looking for different occupation. So I have a huge respect for that.

Brandon Dennison:

One of those things that's easier said than done.

Scott Adkins:

It is, you know, it's a culture thing. And, you know, when I grew up, I can remember as a kid, all the coal companies had summer programs for all the kids of the dads and moms who worked there who wanted to keep that sort of continuous participation in the coal industry moving forward. My brother did, and was subsequently was a coal miner for, you know, 30 plus years. That's not the case, obviously, today, with how mining has been affected, so there's a huge difference there. But then after that, Brandon, I left the coal industry, had an opportunity to law school, went to WVU Law School, graduated with us 40. So I was a kind of a non traditional student graduating. Yeah, it was, it was fun. It was a challenge. So I did that and changed jobs a few times ended up here at Workforce, it is a great place to work. A great opportunity to make a difference for people who struggle, you know, we deal, there's two really where there's multiple components to workforce. Most folks know us as the unemployment agency. And those are the folks that have more [unintelligle] than they do money when they lose a job. And so we're here to provide that service. But you know, the bigger transformation that we're attempting here at workforce with a, with the direction of Secretary Gaunch and Governor Justice, is to kind of reinvent who we are. Everybody knows us as unemployment, but we need to take that next step, we need to start thinking about re-employment. And so we're working on a model right now, to revolutionize our 17 field offices, so that we're helping folks obtain training, soft skills training, if they need that, help them look for a job, training, credential attainment. So we're working really hard to sort of transform from that perception of just being unemployment to helping folks find jobs because let's face it, that's what we're here for.

Brandon Dennison:

Right on, and we at Coalfield Development we consider ourselves a partner with you in that mission. I want to get back to that in a little bit but I am curious, so were you living on Buffalo Creek when that flood happened?

Scott Adkins:

Yes, sir. Brandon, I was in second grade and I remember my dad was a supervisor at the time with Island Creek Coal Company. And it happened on an early Saturday morning about

8:

30. And there were some folks who came down trying to warn everybody to leave, and so my dad, being a supervisor had keys to all the gates to the mining property. And we were able to go up a hill, it was called Kelly Mountain, come down on the other side where we could actually see Buffalo Creek. And so we viewed from about 250 feet, up a mountain, everything that transpired on Buffalo Creek in February of '72.

Brandon Dennison:

Wow, that had to have left a big impact.

Scott Adkins:

It did, you know, we lost, I lost several relatives, an aunt, uncle, several cousins, and you know, it was tough. And of course, I was relatively young, but it was it was a scary time, and folks kind of forget about the impact that and coal mining has been great for West Virginia, but there's been another impact too, you know, that we have to deal with. And I think there's 106 or 108 folks who, who lost their lives that February morning of '72.

Brandon Dennison:

Wow, yeah, that's that's probably it's got to be one of the bigger mining related disasters, you know, in American history, I would imagine.

Scott Adkins:

It is. And you know, there's, there's always an upside to every tragedy, I think there's an opportunity to do better be better learn more change practices and procedures. And really that sort of born, that bore out MSHA, [the] Mining Safety and Health Administration that we know today, that came out of Buffalo Creek, a lot of folks don't know that there, there were several legal principles that came out of that the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress that was developed by the law school out of out of Cincinnati, at the University of Cincinnati. That came out of Buffalo Creek. It's used all the time, now for civil litigation when it comes to, you know, intentional infliction of emotional distress. So, so there was a lot of positive that came out of it. And obviously, you know, Buffalo Creek was rebuilt, as you can imagine, the creek was moved, the roads moved, new houses were there, and it changed the face of Logan County. And I think personally, it changed the face of the coal mining communities.

Brandon Dennison:

Absolutely. What is it fair to say? So I get asked, you know, there's a lot of attention on West Virginia right now from national media, because our senators are very prominent right now. And there's a lot of climate change discussions. And when those happened, people say, Well, what about coal country? What do they think? My main message, I think, is just West Virginia and our relationship to coal. Is it fair to say it's a little bit complicated? I mean, it's done a lot of good for a lot of us it's put a lot of food on the on the table. Right. But it's it's a tough industry too, and how would you describe West Virginia's relationship to coal?

Scott Adkins:

Well, I mean, coal, you know, we thought coal was gonna be around a hundred years. If you look at some of the old blue books, from the late 60s, early 70s, McDowell County, Logan County, you're talking 70,000 to 80,000 people reside in those counties and clearly we're nowhere near there at this point. So that I think there was a thought at one time, that call would keep southern West Virginia, at the forefront of everything going on in West Virginia, and to some extent, the eastern part of the country. Well, we all know now that didn't happen, because there's so much flux within the coal industry. And, you know, a lot of people have left the coal industry, we get calls, probably a couple of times a week, from coal companies looking for miners, because there's been such a downturn in the mining industry for so many years. There's no, there's no new Red Hat's there's no folks in the in the pipe being trained on how to run a miner. And so they're stealing workers from each other. And with it with the, the increase in the need for metallurgical coal, the coal industry is being revived in West Virginia. I think we have more coal miners today than we did in in 2018, 2019, who are who are working the faces of those mines. So... And just for folks who might not know metallurgical coal is for steel production versus other coal, which is more for power production. Yeah, yeah. Bituminous is coal is just gonna be for power. And that's where the most concern comes. If you think about it from an environmental perspective, is that Bituminous coal because it typically has high sulfur content. There's some acid mine drainage associated with that too. As far as you know, once you're done mining, what happens with the spoils. So but yeah, but the influx of metallurgical coal has revitalized to some degree, West Virginia on the national level and and really the international level. I don't know what those exports exports are right now with metallurgical, metallurgical coal, but they're huge. It's one of the biggest products that we send out of West Virginia to other countries, is metallurgical coal. Huge need for it right now.

Brandon Dennison:

Scott, what are some other? So you mentioned that actually there is some some demand some need for for job training in the mining sector. What are some other opportunity areas that you're seeing for new employment, especially in the southern part of the state?

Scott Adkins:

Yeah, southern part of the state you, you know, again, we can talk about the challenges in the southern part of the state for several hours, but, you know, we recently did a employer survey, which which included employers from the southern part of West Virginia, but but also the entire state. And overwhelmingly what employers said was, they need folks who have technical skills, you know, folks who can work with their hands, folks who can participate in manufacturing. And overwhelmingly they said that they didn't need folks with four year degreess. And so, you know, historically, we tell kids who are coming through school, get a four year degree, get a four year degree, you get a four year degree, we don't talk about welding, we don't talk about carpentry. We don't talk about HVAC, we don't talk about CDLs. All those areas I just mentioned are in high demand. In West Virginia, really across the country. If you got a CDL license today, you can go anywhere you want to work. And the average wage in West Virginia for CDL driver right now is about $1,600 a week. And so it's it's a living wage, and, and we don't talk about that enough. And so that employer survey really brought to the forefoot to us here at workforce that we need to focus more on getting information training programs out, much like what you do at Coalfield Development, you know, you're looking at those skills, and helping folks develop those sorts of technical skills that sometimes our education folks miss out on.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah, it's weird. On the one hand, we know our economy's not as strong as we want it to be. But on the other, we do keep hearing businesses have positions available that they can't seem to be able to fill. So is it are both those things sort of true at the same time?

Scott Adkins:

Well, I think they are. And, you know, there's a lot of research out, I think John Deskins, up at WVU has done some research and made some comments recently. It is it's a tough paradigm. And so how do you fix it? How do you do that job match. Unfortunately, if you look at labor force participation rate at 55.2%, right now, in West Virginia, the lowest in the country, the lowest, we've had the lowest labor force participation rate, as you know, since 1976, when we started keeping those records. And so how do we fix that? And we're looking at some granular data around labor force participation. And what we have found, Brandon, is that those folks between we like to have the national average, in the age groups of 18, to 24, and over the age of 50. So if we could figure out why those 18 to 24 individuals aren't working, we can make a difference. There's probably more quantitative data for those folks over the age of 50, that we can, you know, it's lots of different things that we could talk about, for those folks over the 50, we've been working with workforce has been working with the State Department of Education. And what we have found is that 30% of all the graduating seniors don't have a career plan, meaning they're not going to the military, they're not going to technical school, they're not going to a four year university. And so they're kind of lost in the system, they don't know what to do. And we can figure out how to case manage those kids, or those young adults, those 18 to 24, folks, you know, get them, get them employed, give them the confidence and hope they need to be able to perform at a high level or the skills they need, you know, to help them figure out what they're good at, you know, when I grew up, we took aptitude tests, and so we kind of knew, or at least our parents knew what we were had the potential to be good at. And we don't really do that today. And so a lot of kids who are leaving high school, have no idea what they could be good at, or what they wouldn't be good at. And we have to figure that out. It's, it's like it would be easy to lift. But I think it's worth the effort. Because if we can, if we can increase that labor force participation rate, or if we're going to, we got to start with that age group of 18 to 24.

Brandon Dennison:

I really like how you're thinking about that. And, you know, I feel like that transition from high school to adulthood, if you do have a plan. It's like a bridge, you know, your job or your college experience, or your apprenticeship. It's this bridge into adulthood, and it launches your whole career. If you don't have a plan, it's like that transition becomes this canyon. And you might make some bad decisions as a young adult that you could spend your whole life trying to try to make up for from then on.

Scott Adkins:

Yeah, that's a that's a great point. You know, folks on the national level, and really even in West Virginia, we talked about substance use disorder, and that's a factor. And it's a huge factor for that for that age group. 18 to 24. And I think as you said, if we can help get them into training, get them into a job, give them that hope, you know, give them that meaningfulness as it relates to them or their family or society, I think we can correct a lot of that. And so, when you think about substance use disorder, it's more than just treatment. We've got it, we got it, we gotta intervene before we ever get there. And part of that intervention is giving folks hope, to give him a job, you know, and give them giving them something to look forward to, and a way to support their families.

Brandon Dennison:

Amen to that. Well, what are some of the, clearly you're you've done a lot of deep thinking, you're a key leader in workforce development in the state. What are some of the big changes you've seen over the last couple of years related to workforce development in West Virginia?

Scott Adkins:

Well, I think we've gotten better at identifying what the needs are of the employers, and I tell my folks all the time, when we think about our client, we have to think about our client from the perspective of the employer. Because if we don't have employers who have living wage jobs, then we can have 50 people lined up ready to work. But if we don't have a place where the work is meaningful, and so I think historically, we've looked at it the other way, we want to train people, and then hope there's a job available for them, once they get that credential or that certification of that degree. But now we're looking at it differently, we're starting to work with the employer community, trying to figure out what you need are today, what your needs are tomorrow, and then what are gonna be your needs two years from now? And then once we fully understand that, then we when I say we, I'm thinking about the public workforce delivery system as a whole, which will include us, organizations like like Coalfield, K-12, higher ed, community and Technical College, all those folks, once we can figure out what those needs are, and we can develop programs and figure out which folks really would be good at those skills or have those skills and get them trained, get them credentialed, get them ready to meet the needs of what the employers are saying, the are going to need in the near future. And then, you know, two or three years out, so I think we've, we've kind of flipped that paradigm, that we're not looking at training from the perspective of the individual, but we're looking at training from the perspective of what the employer needs are.

Brandon Dennison:

Are you feeling more hopeful about do you think we can get that labor force number up over the next decade?

Scott Adkins:

I think we can. I really do. I'm optimistic about that. And, you know, the governor have put together this Blue Ribbon Task Force. And he brought all the major players involved with workforce development, at least from the State agency sort of perspective, right. And, you know, we need to be better at what we do. You know, it's, it's a sad day, in any state when an employer wants to come here, and we can't, we can't guaranteed a trained up, ready to work, workforce. And so it's, it's difficult to ask Toyota to expand if we don't have folks that Toyota can count on for expansion for the workforce. So I'm very optimistic about it. I think we can get there. It's gonna be it's gonna be a challenge. But I think working together, being creative, doing a lot of the work like like Coalfield has done. And I hope we have a chance to talk about that, because I think folks really need to know and understand what kind of impact you're having in southern West Virginia. And hopefully, we can emulate that and replicate it throughout the state. Because, you know, taking those folks who have some sort of barrier to employment, getting them trained, competent, ready to work, is a big deal to improve that labor force participation rate.

Brandon Dennison:

Can you explain for the listeners who maybe are not as well versed in workforce development? When we say barriers, barriers to employment? What are what are some examples of those? What do we mean by that?

Scott Adkins:

Yeah, I mean, they the barriers could be a lack of work experience, a lack of skills or social skills, it could be a substance use disorder problem that, you know, that they've experienced, it could be some sort of encounter with law enforcement. So it really, really runs the gamut of what those barriers to employment can be.

Brandon Dennison:

And how does poverty factor into all of this as well, especially for southern West Virginia. Is that, how does that factor in here?

Scott Adkins:

Yeah, well, poverty does I mean, obviously, folks who don't have the resources to pursue the training or, or go to school, even though there's dollars available for them, there could be a transportation issue. One of the issues we face right now in West Virginia is childcare, we have a lot of a lot of, particularly females, who are now home taking care of kids or kids have to be quarantined. And it's difficult for the employer let's face it, to hold a position open for three or four months. If a parent needs to be home, for example, over the summer, because there was lack of childcare in 2020 to take care of their kids. So, you know, poverty all contributes to that, because let's face it, if you've got resources, you can go anywhere you want to work.You can relocate, if you will, if you're living in, and I'm just making them something, if you're living in Welch, West Virginia and McDowell County, and the job is in Charlotte, but you've got to move to Charlotte you have to have good transportation, you have to have a down, deposit on a house or deposit on a rental, you have to pay deposits for utilities. If you can't do that, then you're stuck. You're not going to Charlotte, even though it's the perfect job. And you would be really good at it, because you don't have the resources to get there.

Brandon Dennison:

Are the jobs that are open in our state right now? Are they mostly in sort of like Huntington, Charleston, Metro Valley, Eastern Panhandle? Is there a regionality to those openings?

Scott Adkins:

Yeah, I mean, if you look at the unemployment rate, or or look at the number of people working, these are being handled clearly lowest unemployment rate, most most of the population is working up there. Central West Virginia, is is huge. And obviously the Charleston, Huntington, Putnam corridor, there are, you know, jobs available there. But again, you go down south, because of infrastructure, well, infrastructure is a problem in southern West Virginia. If you have a lack of infrastructure, you don't have businesses moving there, you don't have opportunities for people to go to work unless they relocate. So...

Brandon Dennison:

So somebody's saying, 'Hey, I just saw a headline, we have all these jobs open in West Virginia. But people aren't filling those jobs. That must mean we're lazy.' And I think what I'm hearing now is it's not so much that we're lazy is that we have these barriers could be transportation could be that the job that's available is two hours away from the person who's unemployed, could be childcare, could be substance use disorder, mental emotional challenge. So there's a human element to all this. Right?

Scott Adkins:

Absolutely. And, you know, I have to say, when I talk to employers that show up at workforce, they love the West Virginians that they have working, all you have to do is talk to the folks at Toyota. Yeah, I mean, one of the most productive Toyota plants in the world...

Brandon Dennison:

That's awesome.

Scott Adkins:

You know, resides in Putnam County, right. And so continue expansion, I think they'll expand even more in the next two to three years. So it's not a matter of folks being lazy. I think it's just a matter of overcoming some of those barriers, and helping folks understand what those opportunities are.

Brandon Dennison:

How does economic diversification fit in here? Has it been complicated? I'm talking mainly about Southern West Virginia here, Scott that, that our workforce, you know, 20 years ago, you probably could get a job in the mines with just a little bit of vocational training and make really good money, and not really and be set for life, as I understand it from from talking with folks. So has our lack of economic diversification maybe set us behind in the workforce development training system that a diversified healthy economy really needs?

Scott Adkins:

Yeah, I think so. Particularly in southern West Virginia, because again, if you look at Central West Virginia, North Central West Virginia, Eastern Panhandle, the economy is so diverse. I mean, we have aeronautical companies in in Central West Virginia, we have huge manufacturers over in the eastern panhandle, things that we don't have in southern West Virginia. And we don't have it for several reasons. Infrastructure, as I mentioned earlier, we don't have job-ready sites available for companies to pursue. We don't have the same trained workforce in the southern part of the state as we do in central western and eastern panhandle.

Brandon Dennison:

And what we have had has been coal, but that's sort of a boom and bust situation. Right?

Scott Adkins:

It is. I mean, let's face it, even though we have an uptick in metallurgical coal sales right now, how long will that last? You know, is it going to last two years, five years, 10 years with the constant changes in environmental requirements? And what will coal look like with carbon emissions? Will we have power plants in 10 years from now who are burning coal in West Virginia? So, you know, those are those are really sort of unknowns and sort of political in nature as well. So but yeah, but we were not diversified, obviously in southern West Virginia.

Brandon Dennison:

You mentioned geography, you know, for folks who aren't from here. The difference in eastern panhandle and southern West Virginia, eastern panhandle, there's enough flat property, you really could build a million square foot distribution center, which that's what the Amazons of the world want right, they want a million square foot, you literally could not fit that in, in most parts of most counties in southern West Virginia right? No, you couldn't, and you're talking about moving a million cubic yards of material just to get aside halfway ready. And then utilities is huge, too. You know, because even if you get a site like that developed, it's typically typically going to be on top of a mountain somewhere and not, you know, not really conducive to a strong versatile infrastruture. So if we've got entrepreneurs in the southern part of the state who are trying to diversify the economy, it's going to be more niche, right? It's gonna be more small business, might be online based, we got to get the broadband better, but there might be potential for creative online tech businesses, five employees here, 10 employees there. But hey, in a town of 1,500, a new business of 10 employees that are well paid is a pretty big deal. I guess my question is, does Workforce Development look different for small business than it does for big business?

Scott Adkins:

Yeah Brandon, you're exactly right. It has to be because, again, you're not going to have you don't have a Toyota, there's going to hire 1,200 workers in Logan County, because you're not going to have the infrastructure capability there. It's going to be niche businesses. And so we have to think about it when we think about training and working with prospective employers or entrepreneurs. What are those needs going to be? Yeah, you know, there's a lot of successful niche businesses in southern West Virginia, I think that we could learn from and help emulate.

Brandon Dennison:

Absolutely, yeah. And I think sometimes small business development, and then workforce development are thought of as like two totally different things. I think for the to help diversify southern West Virginia, we got to bring those two worlds together, you sort of got to be doing both at the same time, in a sense.

Scott Adkins:

Absolutely. I mean, we're not going to be successful if we don't.

Brandon Dennison:

Well, Scott, let me let me circle back just to you as a as an individual, West Virginian. And we'll move towards our wrap up here. You mentioned going out to St. Louis and out west. I wonder so many of us when we leave the state, we always think as kids, we got to get out. And then as adults, we're out and we just want to get back. Is that was that your experience? Was it hard being out of state for you?

Scott Adkins:

It was really difficult. I lived. I lived in a town called St. Charles, which was west of St. Louis, just across the Missouri River. And it was a it was a learning experience for me. But I can tell you two weeks there, I was looking for jobs back here. I was ready to come back in two weeks. Yeah. I mean, I got to learn a lot. I spent one winter up in North Dakota, which was an interesting experience. Spent some time down in Arizona and New Mexico, South Dakota, Western spent a lot of time in Illinois, Southern Illinois, around the Wrenn Lake area, Western Kentucky, doing environmental work around the coal industry.

Brandon Dennison:

Great experiences. But yeah, we always want to some about us West Virginians, we just always want to get back home, don't we?

Scott Adkins:

It's a better story to tell than an experience to live.

Brandon Dennison:

I love that. That's like the start of the country song or something I love it. Yeah. And then you mentioned something I did not know about you, going back to law school, when you were 40. Can you tell me about sort of that process of what made you decide to do that? And how challenging was that sort of mid career to make that shift?

Scott Adkins:

You know, it was a tough decision. I'd gotten into law school in my early 20s, down in John Marshall in Atlanta, Georgia, and decided not to go. And it was something that I thought I always wanted to do I just wasn't quite sure if I wanted to put three more years in, start out, you know, working 60 hours a week like most lawyers do, coming out of law school. And I went to work, it's a funny story. When I left. St. Louis and I came back here to work for a coal company called Fola, a coal company up in Clay and Nicholas County, and I left there and had an opportunity to go to work for the Senate President at the time, and then ultimately for the Attorney General. And really kind of fell in love with the opportunities that law could provide and decided at 40 that I would go back to go to school, go to law school, so I actually worked full time and went to law school full time.

Brandon Dennison:

Wow.

Scott Adkins:

Yeah. I commuted so funny story. I lived in Morgantown. The first year, I was married and my wife was pregnant. And I commuted four days a week from St. Albans to Morgantown for two years. Interesting experience.

Brandon Dennison:

So you, you owe that diploma to your wife then?

Scott Adkins:

I do. Absolutely. She would. She would take the kids away so I could study and I bought every every law school book, I bought it on tape, that was back in the cassette days. And I listened to it for three hours, six hours a day, those recordings over and over. And, you know, really learned law school that way, honestly, that's the point of the story is if you're determined, you can do it. You know, if you've got to desire to take that next step, either in your career or education. You can do it. It just takes a little effort and determintation.

Brandon Dennison:

Love it. We talk about with our people, lifelong learning, you know that you got to it's not like in a modern world or probably any world. You don't just get a degree or get a certificate and say I've made it, you got to constantly be learning finding new experiences staying sharp, welcoming challenges, right?

Scott Adkins:

You do I mean, even at my age if I have a an opportunity to go back to school to do a couple things I would like to I would even get my age, I'd still do it. So you have to be you have to be a lifelong learner. Because if you don't, because the skills always change the workforce always changes. And so you have to you have to evolve with it.

Brandon Dennison:

You've talked about some changes that you've seen some changes you've been part of, are there some big changes that you still really you've not seen yet that you really hope to see, before your career wraps up?

Scott Adkins:

I do. You know, we talked about the labor force participation rate. And I would love to see us really get a handle on that and move the needle in a positive way. And, you know, we can sit around the table and probably identify 20 different root causes of labor, labor force participation rate. But I think it really goes back to culture, you know, getting people and when I say culture, I don't mean it the negative way. I mean, we have to give people hope. And I've said it multiple times during this call. But if people have hope, and they have an opportunity to improve their position in life, most people will do it. Nobody wakes up today, and I tell this story all the time. Nobody wakes up today and says I'm gonna make a bad decision to screw my life up before the end of the day is over. It just happens. And it happens, mostly because we're not prepared to handle those things that we face on a daily basis. And so if we could teach folks to handle that, instill that hope and pride in who they are and what they do, I think we can change that labor rate. It's not just a training issue. It's a cultural issue. It's a human perspective issue that we have to, again, give give folks hope and opportunity, because I am convinced that if you do, folks will take advantage of that.

Brandon Dennison:

I could not agree more. That was very well said my final question, I am just I'm still struck Scott by thinking about little Scott Atkins is a second grader up on Kelly Mountain, looking down at at Buffalo Creek. And that was such a significant event. And I just wonder if you could share just a little bit more about what that was, like from your perspective. And how growing up in Logan County, not just the experience in Buffalo Creek, but growing up in Logan County, in a coal family. What gives you hope for the future of coal country?

Scott Adkins:

Well, you know, as a second grader, it was it was very scary. It was scary that we were running through the house trying to collect everybody, collect the animals, make sure that we all got in the truck. And headed up that hill, there was a lot of people following us. You can imagine the chaos in the community. And Buffalo Creek is very narrow. And you know, there's a road in a creek and two mountains on either side. Basically, there's very little flat land in between the creek and the road and the mountain. So it was very scary. But you know, one thing that really being around the coal industry, being around coal miners being around coal families, is that they're resilient. They're tough. You know, they really are. And they're hard workers. I don't think I've met too many miners that really didn't, you know, bust it every day to give 100% of who they are to their job so they could support their families. And so really coming out of southern West Virginia, I think it's some of the toughest people in West Virginia. I think it's some of the most determined folks. And everywhere I've traveled everywhere, I always run into people from Logan County, I don't care if you go to you go to Charlotte, you go to wherever you go, you're gonna run into somebody from Logan County. So I think Logan County in southern West Virginia, in particular, does contribute a lot to this country and definitely a lot to West Virginia.

Brandon Dennison:

Yeah. And that can't get lost. I mean, this this country was really built on the backs of coal miners and other workers too. But without the power that was generated by coal, you don't have the skyscrapers, you don't have the bridges. A lot of people aren't able to turn the lights on. Right. We can never forget that.

Scott Adkins:

Absolutely. And, you know, the other thing that folks may miss in, in southern West Virginia with coal is the diversity of folks who live there. You know, we had a lot of immigrants who came to West Virginia specifically to work in the coal industry, because, you know, it was a hard job, but it was a well paying job, you can support your family on it. And so you can you can go up and down. If we had phone books today, the look at the last names of the people living in Southern West Virginia, you're gonna find a tremendous amount of diversity.

Brandon Dennison:

That definitely gets lost and, you know that that's the foundation for for a new economy, you know, that coal is still a part of but as we add new things to the mix, new manufacturing, bring in solar, bring in wind, bring in, support, small business support agriculture, that foundation of diversity and resilience and just pure toughness. With that a new economy does become possible.

Scott Adkins:

Absolutely. I agree.

Brandon Dennison:

Well, Scott, thank you so much for your time today. I've learned more about you than I knew. I think our listeners are gonna appreciate that and thank you for everything you're doing for our state.

Scott Adkins:

Brandon I appreciate it and thank you for what you and your organization's doing as well.

Brandon Dennison:

You bet we'll be staying in touch and working together.

Scott Adkins:

Sounds good. Take care.

Brandon Dennison:

All right, Scott. Thank you. Change in the Coalfields is a podcast created by Coalfield Development at the West Edge Factory in Huntington, West Virginia. This episode was hosted by Brandon Dennison, and produced and edited by JJN Multimedia. Become a part of our mission to rebuild the Appalachian economy by going to our website coalfield-development.org to make a donation. You can email us anytime at info@coalfield-development.org and subscribe to our newsletter for up to date information on the podcast. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn by searching for Coalfield Development. Check back soon for more episodes.