On Tuesday, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced a $44.4 million investment package to “expand and diversify the economy in Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities.” The project consists of 54 awards given across Appalachia through the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative. Nine of these projects are in Pennsylvania and will focus on promoting entrepreneurial activity, increasing rural broadband coverage, and accommodating/attracting new business development.
The Appalachian Regional Commission is a federal-state economic development agency created in 1965 to “to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.” The ARC helps to coordinate federal, state, and local initiatives in Appalachia to spur development. In their 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, ARC’s goals include: creating economic opportunities, developing a ready workforce, investing in critical infrastructure, leveraging natural and cultural assets, and bolstering leadership and community capacity. The POWER Initiative specifically focuses on regions that have been affected by job losses in the coal and related industries.
Of the $44.4 million POWER investment package, 33% of the investments will “develop business incubators, increase access to capital, and provide other services to advance entrepreneurship,” 30% “will support broadband development and expansion in rural and/or underserved areas,” and 19% will “focus on workforce-to-recovery and other comprehensive strategies to strengthen the recovery ecosystem.” According to ARC, “These 54 awards are projected to create or retain over 5,700 jobs, leverage more than $39 million in private investment, create and/or retain 2,940 businesses, and train thousands of workers and students within the broadband, entrepreneurship, substance abuse recovery, tourism and other industry sectors across coal-impacted communities in nine Appalachian states.”
Locally, a $1 million grant is going to a Community Development Financial Institution in Pittsburgh, Bridgeway Capital, for the Pennsylvania Entrepreneur Diversification Fund. According to ARC, “Activities will include business development workshops, one-on-one counseling, support for a regional business incubator, and small grants to entrepreneurs for training and licensure.” This is expected to create 65 new businesses and 200 local jobs. A $50,000 grant is going to the Greene County Board of Commissioners for the Rural Broadband Coverage and Feasibility Study. The 2018 Greene County Comprehensive Plan (not yet approved) states one top issue as expanding broadband access. This study will review current broadband connection and come up with a plan to best fill service gaps. Lastly, a $20,000 grant was given to the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council for the Fayette County Multi-Tenant Spec Building Feasibility Study in Lamont Furnace, PA. This study will determine the feasibility of constructing buildings in various locations throughout Fayette County to accommodate and attract businesses who need industrial/commercial spaces.
According to ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas, “The downturn of the coal market has been devastating to Appalachian communities, especially those that relied on coal extraction and related supply chains for generations. POWER grants are playing a critical role in supporting these communities as they diversify economies, invest in growth-oriented infrastructure, train a next-generation workforce, and ingrain resiliency and hope into their local fabric.” These grants are an exciting opportunity to diversify our local economy from the coal industry to build resilience and prosperity in our region.