Funding will help diversify and strengthen coal-impacted economies in Appalachian Virginia
RICHMOND—Virginia announced that Virginia will receive six grants totaling $4,227,512 in the
Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) program. Projects include broadband and solar energy expansion, workforce development, water systems improvements, and recovery health programs focused on re-employment. One project is a multi-state project focused on Opportunity Zone development.
“I am proud of the strong collaborative efforts of our partners across Virginia’s Appalachian region in competing for federal funding through the POWER program,” said Governor Northam. “Appalachian Virginia is a vital part of our Commonwealth that requires a focused, regional approach to support job creation and economic growth and diversification. From broadband expansion to entrepreneurial and workforce development, these grants will help us leverage every available resource as we work to strengthen the economy in areas that were once dependent on the coal industry and enhance the quality of life throughout the Appalachian region.”
The Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER program is a congressionally-funded initiative that targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production. This announcement is part of 54 investments throughout the 13 states that make up the ARC region, totaling $44.4 million.
“I congratulate Virginia for being an FY 2019 POWER grantee, and commend them on the leadership they have shown in their community,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas. “POWER grants are playing a critical role in supporting coal-impacted communities in the Appalachian region as they diversify economies, invest in growth-oriented infrastructure, train a next-generation workforce, and ingrain resiliency and hope into their local fabric. Projects like this help ensure a prosperous future for Appalachia.”
“Improving the quality of life for all residents of the Appalachian region remains a priority for this administration, and we are excited to receive funding through the POWER program to continue our work in our Appalachian communities,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “These projects will strengthen this region of Virginia and help make it a great place to live, work, and do business.”
The Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board will receive $1.5 million for the Recovery Opportunities and Pathways to Employment Success (ROPES) project. The ROPES program will create a recovery-to-employment ecosystem that combines substance abuse disorder recovery and treatment with workforce development and re-employment opportunities. The program will provide upskilling and work-based learning opportunities while at the same time developing a menu of recovery services focused on the post-treatment to employment continuum. The project will make the workforce of Southwest Virginia healthier and more competitive as the region strives to overcome the opioid crisis and revitalize an economy that has been heavily dependent on coal. Guided by the Workforce Board’s Business Services Team, the program will work with employers to foster understanding and support for recovery-safe work environments. ROPES will serve and improve 25 businesses, 90 workers/trainees will obtain new employment, and four new jobs for case managers and certified peer recovery specialists will be created.
BARC Electric Cooperative will receive $1 million for the BARC Rural Economic Development via Broadband project. The project will deploy a gigabit last-mile fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) network to businesses and residents of the town of Goshen, a remote area in Rockbridge County that is not currently served by a broadband provider. The reduction in coal rail shipping has caused economic deterioration in the Goshen area. Improved broadband access is crucial for increased economic development, the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem, improved educational opportunities, and reduced workforce migration. The eight-mile fiber network will make FTTP available for 301 households and eight businesses. The network will also further BARC Electric’s smart grid strategy by connecting its Network Operations Center to its entire Smart Grid.
Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) will receive $588,072 for the SWCC Automotive Service Excellence Center. The project will create a credit-based, fast-track curriculum to prepare students for entry-level automobile technician positions. Students will receive certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Education (ASE). Rapid changes within the automotive, heavy-duty truck, and diesel engine fields have created a strong demand for workers with training and certification in the latest technologies, but no specialized training opportunities currently exist within an hour’s drive of SWCC. These businesses offer employment opportunities in an area that has been heavily dependent on the coal industry. As a result of the grant, at least 59 students will obtain jobs or will still be enrolled in the program at the end of the three-year project period, 25 workers/trainees will have enhanced positions, and five businesses will be improved.
The LENOWISCO Planning District Commission will receive $50,000 for the Technology Innovation Ecosystem for Rural Water Systems project. This pilot project will identify innovative and emerging technologies that can be scaled to monitor and evaluate small, rural public water systems for potential leaks. It will include a strategic analysis of existing leak detection technologies in both real and simulated testing environments. It can provide an immediate cost savings to the Wise County Public Service Authority, reducing water loss costs that are typically absorbed by the customer base. Partners include the Wise County Public Service Authority, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Appalachian Voices will receive $49,940 for the Taking a Proven Energy Model to Scale project. The project will provide technical assistance to grow the emerging solar energy cluster in Central Appalachia, helping diversify the regional economy. It will support a commercial-scale solar group purchase program in Southwest Virginia that helps building owners who want to use solar energy navigate the often complex process of a commercial-scale solar installation and pool demand to reduce costs. The project will examine options for expanding the group purchase approach to other states, conduct a multi-state market analysis of solar opportunities, and prepare an assessment of the solar project finance ecosystem.
Appalachian Community Capital (ACC) will receive $1,039,500 for the Opportunity Appalachia project. ACC has partnered with five organizations, including the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth in Ohio, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, and the West Virginia Community Development Hub, to develop a program that attracts investment funding to federally designated Opportunity Zones located in Central Appalachia. Opportunity Appalachia will cultivate investment deals that both benefit investors and provide robust social returns for communities found with the zones. It will provide technical assistance to develop and structure investable transactions, create investment prospectuses and pitch decks, and lead outreach to potential investors. The project will develop transactions to create a portfolio of Opportunity Zone investments in Central Appalachia. This initiative is expected to bring an estimated $7.5 million of new private investment to Opportunity Zones in Central Appalachian coal communities, investing in 15 businesses and creating 720 jobs, 70 of which are projected to be for persons in recovery from substance abuse. Additional funding is being provided by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.