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W.Va. slow to pursue coal state economic grants

Editor’s Note: This story is one in a continuing Register-Herald series about the benefits of economic diversity and economic drivers in Southern West Virginia.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — An Obama administration grant initiative designed to help struggling coal states — 14 in all — would put $1 billion into Appalachia for diversification, workforce training and small business development. Unlike neighboring Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear announced in March that his state would be seeking the grant funding, West Virginia was slow to respond, leaving it to local economic development agencies to gather data and apply for the grants.

The first round of POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) — worth $28 million to $38 million in fiscal year 2015 — had a July deadline, which was met by the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority in collaboration with the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation.

Funding for the grants comes from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

West Virginia Hub Executive Director Kent Spellman said applying for the grant money is “not about competing with coal; it’s about complementing coal.

“Coal job losses are very real [and] not just coal job losses. You are impacting the entire community, the entire business community,” Spellman said. “Local economies start to contract dramatically.”

He recommended developing creative strategies — to be willing to experiment and sometimes fail.

Spellman said the state’s political leaders and residents alike have reacted to the decline in the coal industry much like the stages of grief.

“They start with denial — and we’ve been in denial about the upcoming changes — that denial is followed with anger and we’ve seen some of that,” he said. “We’ve seen a great deal of animosity against the Obama administration, some of it earned, some of it not. Now we’re seeing the third stage: acceptance…

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