The Appalachian Regional Commission announced nearly $46.4 million in grants today to support economic development in coal communities.
The grants came through the agency’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization program, referred to by its acronym, POWER. The program targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries.
The Appalachian Regional Commission described the grants as the largest POWER initiative to date.
“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia,” said Gayle Manchin, federal co-chairwoman of the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities.”
She said the projects announced today would invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship and supporting infrastructure — including broadband access.
Manchin was joined for the grant announcement online by her husband, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va
“While some might believe we need to focus on elimination, I believe we need focus on innovation so that we can to continue to use our abundant natural resources in a clean way and maintain that reliable, affordable and dependable power our economy relies on,” Joe Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said in the announcement.
Capito, the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said she is glad to work with the commission as a federal partner.
“From broadband infrastructure to health care to outdoor recreation, each of these POWER grants is an investment in the growth and vitality of West Virginia’s economy. ARC provides critical support to local communities, and today’s announcement will impact multiple sectors of our state,” Capito said.
The grants were announced during an event co-hosted by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the White House’s Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, which is led by Brian Anderson of West Virginia.
The interagency working group was established earlier this year to bring together federal resources to help communities that had been supported by the coal economy to navigate transition.
The Appalachian Regional Commission estimated that the grants announced today would create or help retain more than 9,187 jobs, attract nearly $519.5 million in leveraged private investments and be matched by $59.2 million in public and private funds across the region.
The Appalachian Regional Commission, founded in 1965, is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments.
Gayle Manchin was named federal co-chairwoman of the commission last year. She has previously served as president of the state Board of Education and as West Virginia’s secretary of Education and the Arts.
The grants announced today were distributed among the 13 states in the region. Some of the grants are meant to help the economic diversification of more than one state.
There were 14 grants announced for recipients in West Virginia. They include:
$2.5 million to the Pocahontas County Commission for a Quiet Zone Fiber Deployment project. This will construct an aerial fiber network to provide broadband to businesses and households in Pocahontas County, many of whom live in the federally-mandated National Quiet Zone within a 10-mile radius of the Green Bank Observatory.
$2.5 million to the Woodlands Development Group for a Route 33 Middle/Last Mile Fiber Deployment Project. This grant in partnership with leadership teams in Randolph and Tucker Counties will deploy 58 miles of fiber network. “This project will receive additional funding from other federal resources and will help support a variety of economic initiatives in the region, including Virgin Hyperloop Certification and the Mon Forest Towns tourism initiative.”
$1.5 million to the High Rocks Education Corporation in Hillsboro to create the West Virginia Jobs Network to help employers and job seekers to fill existing jobs. Activities include training and support services, creating an accredited power skill certification and encouraging social enterprise training curriculum.
$1.5 million for the Coalfield Development Corp. in Wayne for efforts to expand the commercial base for recycling, reuse and bio-based manufacturing.
$1.27 million for the West Virginia Community Development Hub to focus on recreational regional development surrounding the Monongahela National Forest.
$1.23 million for Glenville State College to provide training and professional certification opportunities to unemployed, underemployed or displaced workers in north central West Virginia. The training will focus on cybersecurity, Homeland security, policing, corrections and similar security professions.
$1.08 million to Friends of the Cheat in Kingwood for the “Launching the Mountaineer Trail Network.”
$630,000 for Future of Nursing West Virginia of Charleston to encourage entrepreneurial activities and increase economic opportunities for nurses, especially advanced practice nurses.
$50,000 for the Center for Rural Health Development for the Health Care Workforce Gap Analysis Project, which aims to bolster recruitment and retention of the state’s healthcare workforce.
$50,000 to the Braxton County Development Authority for the Trail Town Plan for the Elk River Rail Trail System. This will inventory tourism infrastructure and identify community assets along the 50-plus-mile Elk River Trail system in Braxton and Clay counties.
Almost $50,000 to West Virginia University for to promote youth entrepreneurship education, specifically focusing on rural and low-income youth.
$47,500 for RenewAll in Huntington to establish a “Cultural Wealth Hub” housing a vendor space for creative entrepreneurs, a “makerspace” for cultural goods, a heritage museum and education center, an indoor-outdoor performing arts and cultural events venue, an entrepreneurial training space, and the office for the RenewAll Main Street organization.
$40,000 for the Lewis County Commission in Weston for a study to investigate a greenway spanning Braxton, Harrison and Lewis counties to connect historic sites, recreational assets and business districts.
$40,000 to the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities to conduct a statewide needs assessment and detailed economic impact study of workforce development, employment opportunities and entrepreneurial support to citizens with disabilities and individuals in recovery for substance abuse disorder.
$1.5 million for the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund through Appalachian Voices. The non-profit is registered in North Carolina, but it is spearheading a multistate effort that includes West Virginia.
The Appalachian Solar Finance Fund promotes economic diversification by aiming to jumpstart emerging local solar markets and unlock new commercial and institutional solar energy projects that face unique barriers from region-specific challenges. The award will be used to deploy select subgrant awards for solar projects on nonprofit and public buildings.