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Trump-targeted ARC awards $4.4M to 5 WV projects

By RICK STEELHAMMER

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Appalachian Regional Commission on Wednesday announced the awarding of $4.4 million to support five West Virginia projects designed to diversify and grow the economy in areas affected by the decline of coal-mining jobs.

Wednesday’s award for West Virginia projects was among $15.7 million in POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative grants approved for 18 projects in seven Appalachian coal-producing states.

During the past year, the ARC has distributed more than $92 million to diversify economies in 11 Appalachian states through the initiative.

West Virginia projects benefiting from the newest POWER awards are:

Bluefield State College’s Center for Excellence in Manufacturing Engineering — $1.5 million to buy lab and training equipment to be used by new students and displaced coal miners to learn skills in 3-D printing, adaptive manufacturing methods, collaborative robotics and to provide consultation and technical assistance to mine equipment and service companies to develop new product lines and streamline existing services.

Pierpont Community and Technical College, in Fairmont — $1.02 million to help increase the number of former coal miners who graduate from workforce training and two-year degree programs at the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, in Bridgeport; to develop a new 12-month avionics certificate program in partnership with private-sector aerospace companies; and to maintain and build upon an existing avionics associate degree program and an airframe and power plant certificate program.

Region 4 Planning and Development Council, in Summersville — $1 million to complete a regionally connected bike trail system in Fayette, Nicholas and Greenbrier counties traversing parts of the Monongahela National Forest, Babcock State Park and New River Gorge National River and providing access to towns, businesses and visitor attractions. Funds will be used for trail construction and mapping and development of a trail maintenance program.

PRIDE Community Services, in Logan — $900,000 to train displaced miners in construction trades and construction-related entrepreneurial skills and develop a pool of construction trade professionals for the area.

KVC Health Systems, of Charleston — $20,000 to develop a feasibility study for re-purposing the former West Virginia University Institute of Technology campus in Montgomery as an accredited college focusing on educational opportunities for young adults emerging from the foster care system.

The ARC expects the $92 million in POWER Initiative grants made during the past year to create or retain nearly 8,600 jobs, benefit more than 25,400 worker and students and leverage more than $206 million in additional state, federal and private-sector investment in 11 Appalachian states.

“Each one of these awards is a blueprint for new jobs, fresh opportunities and a robust economic future for Appalachia,” said ARC federal Co-chairman Earl F. Gohl in a news release announcing the grants. “Together, these investments bring added capital into the region and help Appalachia prepare to globally compete in manufacturing, technology, local agriculture, construction and a variety of other industry sectors.”

According to ARC research, Appalachia lost 33,500 coal mining jobs between 2011 and 2016, accounting for 82 percent of America’s coal employment losses during the period. Two thirds of those lost jobs occurred in West Virginia or Eastern Kentucky.

When, or if, the next round of POWER Initiative grants will be made remains questionable. The ARC has announced it is no longer accepting application forms for new grants or providing technical assistance for organizations interested in applying because it has already received enough competitive, funding-qualified applications to drain the balance of funds appropriated for the 2017 federal fiscal year.

Under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year, the ARC is one of 18 independent agencies — organizations that exist outside of federal departments headed by a Cabinet secretary — targeted for elimination.

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