If Appalachia were on the stock market, Federal Co-Chair for the Appalachian Regional Commission Tim Thomas says he’d invest in it.
“There is a bright future for Appalachia,” Thomas said. After traveling the region for four workshops, he’s convinced there are innovators in Appalachia who will help businesses and workers here overcome their most recent setbacks. Those innovators just need support.
The Appalachian Regional Commission is offering that support through $45 million in federal grant funding in 2019. The grants are tied to the Congressionally-approved POWER Initiative, which stands for Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce Economic Revitalization.
The program was specifically designed to stimulate the economy in coal-impacted communities. Over the past several weeks, the ARC sponsored four workshops throughout the region to guide interested entrepreneurs and organizations through the application process. The final workshop was held in Morgantown, West Virginia, Wednesday.
The POWER program has invested $144.8 million dollars in Appalachia so far to support economic development projects, but this year, Thomas said the commission is shifting its focus, taking a special interest in programs that address two of the region’s largest problems: substance abuse and broadband access.
Both, Thomas said, are issues tied to economic development. Broadband internet is critical infrastructure in today’s economy, Thomas said, just like water and electricity, but it is expensive to expand access in the region. The ARC is looking for innovative ways to bring broadband access to new communities through its POWER Initiative in an effort to stimulate development in underserved areas suffering from a lack of connectivity.
When it comes to substance abuse, Thomas admitted that while the ARC isn’t a healthcare entity, transitioning people from recovery back into the workforce is a vital service the commission has the capacity to support with these funds.
“Employers are begging for employees, there’s a shortage of labor supply,” Thomas said. “We need to be getting everyone we possibly can be back to participating in the workforce.”
“Getting folks in recovery back into work not only helps the economy, it also helps in their continued recovery. That sense of self-confidence and self-esteem is so important to sustainable recovery and that’s what a job brings to an individual,” he added.
Last week, the ARC announced $22.8 million in POWER funding for 33 projects across the region. Six million dollars of that funding was awarded to job training programs for people in substance abuse recovery in Kentucky and West Virginia.
The next round of applications for the initiative are due in April.