Federal grant awarded to help coal communities redevelop

Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 10:20 PM EST
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CHARLESTON/HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The first phase of a federal grant has been awarded to 60 groups, one of which,includes both Charleston and Huntington.

The U.S Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded $1 billion to 60 different finalists groups on Monday as part of their Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant program.

“When I say ‘we are one of (the finalists),’ it’s a coalition of folks and the two big players that are helping us coordinate this are Advantage Valley and Coalfield Development,” Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin said. “It’s basically taking properties, sites and manufacturing plants that would support older technology, older energy industries, but now with the opportunity that we have in front of us and winning this first phase, we’re now able to take that next step.”

Appalachian Climate Technology (ACT) Now, is an entity that consists of more than 20 public and private partners working to expand emerging climate resilient sectors of the local economy, including West Virginia and Marshall universities, as well as the cities of Charleston and Huntington. ACT Now is lead by the Coalfield Development Corporation and was one of 60 chosen for the program, out of 529 applicants total.

“Overall, EDA will allocate $300 million of its $3 billion American Rescue Plan (ARP) appropriation to support coal communities as they recover from the pandemic to help create new jobs and opportunities, including through the creation or expansion of a new industry sector,” the EDA wrote in a press release.

In Charleston, Mayor Goodwin said they will focus their efforts on the Kanawha Manufacturing Plant Site located near Smith Street and Ruffner Avenue. The city says the plant began building equipment for the West Virginia coal mines in 1902 and expanded in the power generation in the 1960s but has been idle now for several years.

“With the coal decline and that energy sector on the decline, we need to make sure that we are doing exactly what folks have said we needed to do for the longest period of time which is diversify our economy,” Mayor Goodwin said. “We need to repurpose that site. It’s a great space, and there’s great opportunity if we can be creative and innovative in new uses, and this is a great opportunity with this grant funding to do such.”

Through ACT, Advantage Valley and Charleston, the site will be transformed in a $9.2 million Coalfield Jobs training center, along with the Healthy Food Commercial Kitchen & Food Processing Hub and other clean-technology uses including Battery and Component Manufacturer for an all-electric, zero emissions airplane.

In Huntington, the focused project will be the 100 acres of vacant manufacturing brownfields, in the heart of downtown. The city’s Municipal Development Authority will prepare the site and upgrade its infrastructure to welcome a potential manufacturing plant, while also upgrading three historic buildings for technology reuse and build a new technology center that would create more than 100 jobs.

“We are proud of being approved in the first round of the Build Back Better competition but not surprised. We have a strong plan in place that combines the strength of the Huntington and Charleston communities by addressing the revitalization of long closed industrial facilities in both cities,” Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said in a statement. “In Huntington the Coalfield Development Corporation has established a national reputation in transforming long closed factories such as the old Corbin Factory into the transformation West Edge Factory. Our intention is to transform and repurpose properties and communities that long ago were given up on. We are used to that in Appalachia, and we take pride in restoring that which was once tossed aside and demonstrating that we should never be counted out.”

“If Huntington succeeds, Charleston succeeds, and it’s really just one thing to say it. We’re now actually proving that we can work together, (and) that’s what’s really so monumental about what’s in front of us,” Goodwin said.

Right now, ACT Now has only been awarded $500,000 to each finalists for the first phase of the grant, which is so each organization, city or university can design, plan and come up with feasible analysis on what they can do with their focused property.

ACT Now plans to create more than 3,000 jobs across Southern West Virginia if awarded the second phase of the grant.

“Our message to national leaders has been clear and consistent: Appalachia needs major investment, and we need it quickly. This is an impressive response from our federal leaders. We will continue collaborating with our partners with a great sense of urgency. In the face of economic uncertainty caused by continued challenges in the coal industry, and in the face of repeated climate disasters in the form of floods or tornadoes or droughts, time is not our ally. We have to act now for our people, and we have to act now for our planet,” said Coalfield Development’s CEO Brandon Dennison in a press release.

For the second phase, the EDA will select 20 to 30 of the 60 finalists to award up to $100 million to complete their projects. The second phase deadline is March 15, 2022.

To view all seven projects ACT Now is working to create across Southern West Virginia, click here.