FLATWOODS, W.Va. — Planners and leaders from many West Virginia communities impacted by the downturn in the coal industry learned more Wednesday about how to prepare for the next chapter of their hometown. The Appalachian Regional Commission staged a regional workshop to familiarize those leaders about how they can draw down funding set aside in Washington for redevelopment of coalfield communities in the region. The program is called the “ARC POWER Initiative.”
“The ARC is on a path forward to have available $100 Million to invest in coal impacted communities for economic diversification over the next 21 months,” said Earl Gohl, Federal Co-Chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission. “When we say ‘coal impacted communities’ we mean communities affected by mine closures, communities that have been part of the supply chain in the mining industry, and communities who experience coal fired power plants being shuttered.”
The workshop covered a wide range of topics related to the grant applications. The money is narrowly earmarked for those coalfield communities, but all other typical rules regarding an ARC or federal Economic Development Authority grant still apply. Those interested were encouraged to think boldly and not be small minded in their applications.
“We expect the average size of the grants will be between $500,000 and $1.5 Million, a little bit different than what normal area economic development grants often look like,” Gohl told the gathering during his opening remarks. “We are really encouraging that projects reach across county lines and they reach across state lines.”
Because of the robust funding available, the grants will need strong language and well thought out goals and plans to reach those goals. Gohl described the process as more than a regular Friday night football game. He suggested it’s more in line with the Mountaineers playing for a National Championship.
“It’s important there has been some assessment, planning, and thought to this. Paper napkins are a great place to start, but it’s only a start, if you’re going to have a competitive application it’s going to have to be well thought out,” Gohl explained. “Leverage is important. The more you’re able to leverage this grant, the stronger it is.”
He encouraged those in the room to network with each other and find ways to team up for grants to provide a benefit to as many communities as possible and improve the “bang for the buck.” The more impact a grant will have, the more likely it will win approval.
“At the end of the day, the ARC and EDA have these funds available to make strategic investments to support the economic diversification of coalfield communities,” said Gohl.