A federal initiative was announced on Wednesday aimed to create economic development in communities hard hit by coal industry layoffs.
The funding comes from President Obama’s power plus plan. The administration is awarding West Virginia nearly $39 million for economic and workforce development projects.
The funding comes from $65.8 million made available from the Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization Initiative or POWER. 29 economic and workforce development projects will see this funding.
“We’re handed down with about a third of it coming to West Virginia, is really going to help our communities to be able to enhance and improve our communities,” said Gov Earl Ray Tomblin.
Nine Appalachian states are being funded. One of the largest grants went to the Upshur County Development Authority. $2.2 million will help the authority build a new knowledge and innovation business center.
This project consists of the construction of the new business center on property donated by the City of Buckhannon, which will host a small business development center to be managed by the development authority. Small business development support services will be targeted to IT and other technology-based business interests.
The center will also provide flex-office and incubator space. Broadband access will be available at the facility as a result of a privately-funded initiative to address the current lack of broadband access in Upshur County. One technology company has already committed to locating in this facility. The project will create and retain 78 jobs and leverage $8,500,000 in additional investment.
“One of the things we hope to accomplish with this project is to diversify our economy by focusing on opportunities and knowledge base sectors, technology sectors, similar to software design, coding things of that nature,” said Robert Hinton, executive director of Upshur County Development Authority.
The POWER+ plan supports economic diversification in coal communities, employment and training services for workers displaced from the coal industry. Development authority officials said there needs to be investments to create or retain jobs for the next generation.
“Jobs that rely heavily off college graduates. So with the skill sets you come out of college with, a lot of those jobs and opportunities aren’t in the state West Virginia, and we lose four out of five college graduates within five years of graduating. We’ve got to figure out a way of plugging that hole,” Hinton said.
The Randolph County Development Authority is receiving a $1.8 million grant. ($1.2 million EDA grant and $622,500 ARC grant) The POWER funds will be used to expand a major cabinet manufacturer’s operation. Development Authority Director Robbie Morris said it will double the current production rate, creating 45 new jobs, and $2.5 million in annual wages to the regional economy.
Robbie Morris: “While the project is not solidified yet, there’s a lot of work yet to be done. These POWER funds will go a long way in securing that, and we hope to make that announcement in the near future,” said Robbie Morris, executive director of Randolph County Development Authority.
The Appalachian Regional Commission said about 23,000 Appalachian coal jobs were lost between 2011 and 2015.