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Warner, Capito, Manchin, Wicker introduce bill to expand economic opportunity in Appalachia

congressU.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced bipartisan legislation to help local communities in Appalachia expand economic opportunity. The Appalachia Opportunity Act establishes a $100 million annual grant program to support and encourage public-private partnerships in Appalachia that will improve regional infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship, and create jobs.

While federal-state partnerships like the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) have made great strides at helping the region modernize and adapt to economic shifts over the last several decades, the federal government and states are still largely tasked with selecting which of these projects receive funding. This bipartisan bill establishes a competitive grant program that would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to incentivize local communities to engage in public-private partnerships that would advance local economic development projects. At $100 million annually, the new grant program would nearly double the level of federal funding specifically set aside for expanding economic development in Appalachia. The funds will come from the Dislocated Worker Reserve Fund, a program that provides assistance to dislocated workers who are disproportionately impacted by large layoffs and natural disasters.

“You shouldn’t have to leave your hometown to find a high-paying job and get a world-class education,” said Sen. Warner. “But Southwest Virginia and other parts of Appalachia have been hit hard by economic shifts of the last several decades. While there’s no magic formula that will fix all of the economic problems facing rural communities overnight, the federal government can and should do more to support homegrown initiatives that will expand economic opportunities in the region. This bipartisan bill incentivizes the private sector to make long-term investments in Appalachia, and encourages rural communities to experiment with new and innovative ways to create and attract 21st century jobs.”

“Federal investments and partnerships with local leaders are both critical in helping prepare Appalachian economies and communities for the future,” said Sen. Capito. “As we continue efforts to give our communities the tools they need to grow and prosper, encouraging collaborative partnerships between the public and private sectors is key for ensuring success and sustainability in the region. This bill will encourage cooperation and help deliver critical new resources for economic development in West Virginia and all of Appalachia.”

“Last fall I teamed up with several Senators from the Appalachian region to co-chair The Appalachia Initiative, and today I am excited to continue our important work to tackle the unique needs facing Appalachian communities,” said Sen. Manchin. “Rural communities in West Virginia are facing some tough challenges and grant programs like this will help foster the public-private partnerships needed to get local projects off the ground. This bipartisan bill is part of a comprehensive effort to help drive pragmatic, locally driven efforts to spur economic progress in Appalachian communities.”

“Over the past 50 years, targeted federal investments through the Appalachian Regional Commission have been a driving force for economic development and job creation in North Mississippi and greater Appalachia,” said Sen. Wicker. “This new program would provide additional competitive funding to spur long-term private investment and develop critical infrastructure, making a difference in the lives of the millions of people who call the region home.”

For ten years, the bill would provide $100 million annually to the Appalachia Innovation Program to fund ideas generated by local Appalachian communities. In order to be eligible for these grants, communities will convene public-private teams to collaborate on projects that increase economic growth and education in the Appalachian region. Teams will include representatives from local economic development boards, private companies and associations, and regional institutions of higher learning, including technical schools, community colleges, or four-year institutions.

In order to encourage collaboration across localities and improve the economy for the whole region, projects are required to involve at least two bordering counties, and have access to additional sources of funding representing at least 10 percent of the project’s overall cost, either through local matching funds or private sector investment. To be eligible, projects must also have a measurable economic impact, and seek to do at least one of the following:

  • Create jobs
  • Expand regional capacity of post-secondary education
  • Grow tourism rates
  • Benefit public health
  • Upgrade regional infrastructure

“BPC Action applauds the introduction of the Appalachia Opportunity Grants Act, which contains recommendations from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Appalachia Initiative. This bill responds to the economic challenges in Appalachia by offering a bipartisan approach to advance prosperity and accelerate growth for more than 25 million people that call this region home,” said Jason Grumet, President of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“This is indeed a great day for the Appalachian Region. The bill almost doubles the resources dedicated to this region and will go a long way toward growing a viable future for the people of Appalachia.  The structure is a direct linkage to federal funding for local people to solve their economic challenges with their own solutions. I applaud this long overdue effort,” said Thomas M. Hunter, Former Executive Director of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“The Appalachia Opportunity Act will provide important resources to spur economic growth throughout the region. We thank Senator Warner for his leadership and applaud his ability to gain bipartisan support for his proposal. We look forward to participating in the public-private collaborative process that will identify worthy projects and work to realize the jobs they’ll bring for our people,” said Christian T. Beam, President & COO Appalachian Power Co.

“The UMWA supports every opportunity for economically devastated communities throughout Appalachia to revitalize themselves while increasing badly needed employment opportunities. The Appalachia Opportunity Act will help jump-start this process, and we wholeheartedly support it,” said Cecil E. Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).

“What an exciting outcome of our work on the BPC task force! This grant program will have a tangible impact on economic development across the regions of Appalachia. The focus on grant allocations to teams of public and private groups for collaboration on regional projects has great potential to create jobs, encourage entrepreneurship, and expand the regional capacity of higher education. I support the Appalachia Opportunity Act and look forward to its impact on the future UVa-Wise,” said Dr. Donna Price Henry, Chancellor of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

Sens. Warner and Manchin, along with Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), are co-chairs of the bipartisan Appalachia Initiative, a task force convened with the Bipartisan Policy Center to find pragmatic, bipartisan solutions to Appalachia’s challenges. Last year, they released a report with a set of bipartisan recommendations to boost economic growth in Appalachia.

A summary of the legislation can be found here. Full bill text can be found here.


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