A key to enhancing the region's economic stability and future prosperity is workforce development that helps communities and workers adapt to new industries with high-demand jobs.
One such initiative is the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Program, an integrated, multi-agency effort to invest federal economic and workforce development resources in communities and regions negatively impacted by changes in the coal economy.
Recently, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and Economic Development Administration announced the availability of $65.8 million for coal-impacted communities. Known as POWER grants, these funds can be used for retraining displaced coal industry workers, economic development, and broadband accessibility. Each grant is expected to range between $500,000 and $1.5 million.
"Many communities across Appalachia — from coal mines to Main Streets — are being impacted as the world changes the way it produces and consumes electricity," says ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl. "The POWER Initiative can be a game changer for Appalachia by partnering with these communities and investing federal resources to support local initiatives that will forge sustainable economic paths for the future."
According to ARC, an economic development agency focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian Region, the POWER Initiative supports efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities by cultivating economic diversity, enhancing job training and re-employment opportunities, creating jobs in existing or new industries, and attracting new sources of investment.
Consortium Applying for Grant
Catalyst Connection, a nonprofit that provides consulting and training services to small manufacturers in southwestern Pennsylvania, is leading a consortium of agencies applying for a POWER grant.
"We have a series of projects that are tactical," says Petra Mitchell, President and CEO of Catalyst Connection. "But when you group them together, they are designed to move away from coal and really focus on manufacturing."
The consortium's grant proposal addresses workforce development. "We want to standardize the manufacturing technology curriculum so people in Greene County or Armstrong County or Westmoreland County have access to the same training, same credentials and same certificate," explains Mitchell. "We want to create some outposts through community colleges and start training people."
"It is manufacturers that have to create the jobs for dislocated coal works," says Mitchell. "Some of the manufacturers are at risk because they are in the coal supply chain. Our goal is to work with manufacturers in the coal supply chain, or something related, to help them diversify into new markets, grow their business, retain jobs that are at risk, or create new jobs and opportunities for dislocated coal workers."
Although the Catalyst Consortium hasn't secured a grant yet, they have an advantage. Last year, the counties they serve received designation as an IMCP community — and POWER grants are giving priority to communities with this designation. IMCP stands for Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, which is federal government initiative by the Economic Development Administration.
According to Mitchell, "It is a designation that they have placed on our communities that says that we have a strong manufacturing sector and base that is poised to grow, that there are opportunities to grow and that there is a cohesive partnership, a cohesive set of strategies and a plan to achieve that growth."
The IMCP region includes 20 counties of southwestern PA and West Virginia. Although Catalyst Connection is the convener, the IMCP work of boosting advanced manufacturing in this region is led by a consortium of 75 organizations from both states, including West Virginia's Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
For information on the grants and how to apply, see the joint Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) "The Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative: POWER 2016 Grants." Interested communities must complete a pre-application through the ARC-EDA POWER Portal. Pre-applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.
For questions about the POWER Initiative, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.