Year of Publication



Undergraduate Education


Since 1965, the federal government’s Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has sought to improve Appalachia’s wellbeing by funding state and local economic development projects. One recent ARC strategy is investing in projects to develop the region’s tourism sector as a means of growth, particularly “cultural tourism,” which markets Appalachia’s cultural heritage to potential visitors. This paper seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of such ARC investments based on economic theory and by performing an empirical and qualitative case-study of one such series of projects: The Crooked Road, a music heritage trail located in Southwest Virginia. Officially organized in 2004 and receiving substantial funding from the ARC, the initiative developed infrastructure and marketing campaigns to link nine major venues to establish a “creative cluster” of musicians and creative businesses. Informed by a spatial equilibrium model, this study compares existing economic impact studies of the trail with an original analysis of the region’s economic performance and industry agglomeration using a two-way fixed effects model with inverse probability weights. Initial results indicated that The Crooked Road program increased establishments, employment, and annual wages within the arts and tourism sectors by 6.3%, 9.6%, and 3.6% within the participating counties, and this effect was most pronounced in all variables between 5-11 years after treatment. However, due to the lack of parallel trends, these results remain inconclusive. This paper also incorporates stories of locals from prior interviews and statements in local news articles to contextualize empirical analysis.

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