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Dominant Economic Activity
Historically, the economy of the Southern Appalachians has been highly specialized and heavily dependent upon the region’s abundant supply of natural resources. With the region's early inhabitants relying primarily upon small-scale farming, this traditionally-based economy later gave way to other opportunities. The beginning of the twentieth century saw a regional shift towards resource harvesting and extraction, and technological advancement throughout the century made extraction techniques more streamlined and economically efficient. Manufacturing soon took over as the dominant economic presence in the region, and the service economy continues to rise.
The economic and social characteristics of the Southern Appalachian region have significant effects on its growth. To provide policy-relevant information about the economic conditions on a county-by-county basis, USDA's Economic Research Council has developed a method of classifying a range of varying economic and social characteristics. Economic dependence classifications include farming, mining, manufacturing, federal and state government, recreation, and non-specialized counties. The policy-relevant classifications include low education, low employment, persistent poverty, persistent child poverty, population loss, and retirement destination.