Virginia to receive $2.8M in Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization grants

virginia mapVirginia will receive five grants totaling more than $2.8 million in the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization program. Three of the grants are multi-state implementation grants. One grant will go to Bland County for broadband deployment, and a technical assistance grant will go to Friends of Southwest Virginia.

“Growing and diversifying the economy in Virginia’s Appalachian region requires a dedicated approach to expanding broadband access, delivering skilled workforce training, and creating economic and entrepreneurial opportunity,” said Gov. Ralph Northam. “These grants will support our continued work that leverages regional assets to develop strong economies and help our Appalachian communities thrive.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER program is a congressionally funded initiative that targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production. With today’s announcement, ARC has invested over $144.8 million in 182 projects touching 312 counties across Appalachia since 2015.

“Today’s announcement continues an ongoing commitment for innovative economic development in Virginia’s coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas. “Investing in key regional needs now will benefit the region, and the rest of the country, well into the future.”

“The POWER grants are a tool we are utilizing to invigorate and spur economic investment in the Appalachian region,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “Through innovative and creative partnerships, we are working as partners throughout the Commonwealth, as well as with our Appalachian state partners to improve the quality of life for all living in the region.”

Bland County will receive $459,764 for the Bland County Broadband Deployment project. The project will construct a 33-mile fiber run that will be used to supply broadband to businesses in Bland County. The fiber run will start in Rocky Gap and go south through Bastian and on to Bland. The fiber will run along the Route 52 corridor. Once the fiber construction is finished, the competitively selected ISP partner will use wireless technology to reach additional locations off Route 52. The project will make internet access available to 37 businesses, as well as Bland County Schools, the Board of Education offices and the Bland County Medical Clinic, a federally qualified health center.

Friends of Southwest Virginia will receive $100,000 for the Building POWERful Economic Diversity and Sustainability within Appalachian Communities project. It will create a collaborative interstate plan for developing common natural and cultural assets that can boost regional economic diversification. This process will bridge communities in Southwest Virginia with their neighbors in North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky, to create a community-driven identification and planning process. This will expand current collaboratives within the footprint of Friends of Southwest Virginia, including a previous POWER project, beyond Southwest Virginia to develop natural and cultural assets and strategies that are shared across neighboring states. Natural and cultural asset planning across state lines will help generate a diverse and sustainable economy for Central Appalachia.

The Appalachian Investors Alliance in Knoxville, Tennessee, will receive $577,840 for the Angel Investing in Coal Communities program. Building on a prior POWER grant, the project will develop new Angel Investment Funds serving coal-impacted communities in Appalachia and provide technical and investment support to existing funds. The project will create four new angel funds in the Appalachian region, each capitalized with between $500,000 and $2 million of private financing. Additionally, it will provide due diligence support to Appalachian angel investment funds that lack professional management staff, expand educational offerings to investors and entrepreneurs, and sponsor a referral network of syndication and co-investment partners to increase investment in the region. Typically, angel investments focus on companies that support advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, aerospace, health care, agricultural technology, and other regionally significant industry clusters. The project anticipates these activities will result in syndication and direct investment of $11.25 million in leveraged private investment, with 25 businesses served, leading to 125 entrepreneurial jobs created. The project spans Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD), in partnership with Refresh Appalachia, Sprouting Farms, the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development, Community Farm Alliance, and Whitlock Farm, will receive $1.25 million to expand the impact and scale of the Central Appalachian Food Enterprise Corridor across four Appalachian states. Through previous POWER funding, the Central Appalachian Food Enterprise Corridor has effectively connected established and emerging producers throughout Central Appalachia to wholesale distribution markets, leading to increased agricultural business development and job creation. The current project will focus attention on portions of the corridor that need additional support by increasing technical assistance and extending effective practices. It will enhance the network through mediation between private industry and small-scale farmers, fostering aggregation and distribution opportunities. It will increase the supply of produce, attracting more regional and national buyers to purchase local produce, and will pursue priority procurement policies by states and institutions. The project will span 91 counties in four states (Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) and serve 349 businesses and 938 participants. It is anticipated that the project will improve 238 businesses and 786 participants, create 38 new businesses and 85 jobs, and leverage $732,666 of private investment.

People Incorporated Financial Services (PIFS) received $486,769 to launch a new program providing technical assistance and advisory services to entrepreneurial start-ups, emerging businesses, units of local government, and other community-based organizations to engage in and carry out high impact, capital intensive projects. PIFS will increase capacity of these actors to undertake transformative community development projects. Capacity building will include assistance in how to plan, structure, fund, and carry out community and economic development projects. It will also build capacity to leverage multiple sources of funding, understand, and access complicated financing sources, such as New Markets Tax Credits, and accept significant financial and organizational risk. To select projects, PIFS will work with regional, state, and local economic development organizations, community development leaders, private philanthropy, federal/state agencies, and past POWER grant recipients. PIFS anticipates working with eight to ten unique projects over a three-year period, creating 50 jobs and leveraging $10 million in new capital into the impacted communities. The initiative will focus on coal-impacted communities in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

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