WASHINGTON, DC – President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced on Friday, September 2 that the federal government has chosen the Appalachian Climate Technologies Coalition (“ACT Now Coalition”) of West Virginia for a package of grant awards totaling $62.8 million, leveraged with another $30 million in matching funds from philanthropic foundations, local governments, and the private sector. The WV ACT Now Coalition and West Virginia Community Development Hub (The Hub) are one of only 21 winners of the highly competitive “Build Back Better Challenge” housed at the Economic Development Administration (EDA) at U.S. Commerce, a $1 billion national challenge to build new economic development approaches and family-wage jobs in targeted regions. See https://eda.gov/arpa/build-back-better/.
The Hub is proud to lead the Community and Business Resilience project as one of the four programs of the ACT Now Coalition, building a next-generation economy in southern West Virginia. The Community and Business Resilience Initiative partners include the West Virginia Community Development Hub; the West Virginia Hive, entrepreneurial arm of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority; Advantage Valley; the Southern Brownfields Assistance Center at Marshall University; and the Northern Brownfields Assistance Center at West Virginia University.
The Community and Business Resilience project will receive more than $7 million in EDA grant funding leveraged with $2.2 million in matching funds support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, Appalachian Regional Commission POWER project with Advantage Valley, the Marshall University Research Corporation, and West Virginia University to help communities, small businesses, and entrepreneurs get ready for these new green jobs and economic development.
Stephanie Tyree, the Executive Director for The Hub, says this ACT Now funding will provide tremendous opportunities for progress in West Virginia communities, “Through our programs, 16 communities will complete community revitalization and climate resilience plans, over 125 local resilience and green building development projects will receive seed funding for implementation, 70 buildings and brownfields will be redeveloped, 120 new business startups will be launched, and 500 new jobs will be created.”
The eight construction and programmatic projects in the entire ACT Now Coalition will create jobs in solar roofing and community solar installations, upgrades of buildings to be green and energy smart, community resilience planning and entrepreneurial development, redevelopment of siloed factories and idled brownfields for new green technology manufacturing and other sustainable uses, green collar jobs, and the transformation of abandoned minelands into productive sectors. Program activities under the ACT Now Coalition are expected to launch in January 2023.
The Community and Business Resilience Initiative brings together high-impact, West Virginia-based economy builders to work alongside residents to motivate and prepare them, ensuring no communities will be left behind by the shifts happening today in our country’s energy sector. The initiative builds on a three-pronged approach that serves as the foundation for successful economic diversification: people (leadership and business development), planning (strategic and community resilience plans), and places (community and downtown development). The West Virginia Community Development Hub will develop “Community Resilience Plans” for local resilience and prosperous growth, the WV Brownfield Assistance Centers will help transform brownfields and BAD (Blighted, Abandoned & Dilapidated) Buildings for these new economic and job centers, and Advantage Valley and West Virginia Hive will deploy entrepreneurial development programs to accelerate business start-ups and expansions in these sectors.
“Through our work at The Hub, we are constantly inspired by the transformational leadership we see everyday in West Virginia communities. We are excited to launch this new Initiative to continue supporting community and business leaders to grow the State’s economy and build vibrant main streets throughout West Virginia,” Tyree says. “The Community and Business Resilience Initiative, under the ACT Now Coalition, brings together some of the most innovative and impactful business development, community development and brownfields assistance practitioners in the state to provide wraparound economic and community development services for communities and businesses throughout the project’s multi-county footprint.”
The Community and Business Resilience Initiative partners are ready to deepen their impact across southern West Virginia communities. “Advantage Valley is a very proud partner in the ACT Now Coalition,” remarks Terrell Ellis, the Executive Director for Advantage Valley.. “With the award of Build Back Better funding, we look forward to expanding FASTER WV, our entrepreneurship program, to serve more counties and entrepreneurs with technical support and access to capital. We look forward to building a more resilient economy for our communities.”
“The WV Hive is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such an impactful group of partners on this transformational project and deeply appreciate the trust of the U.S. EDA on this award,” comments Judy Moore, Executive Director of WV Hive and Deputy Director of New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA). “The work will not only allow us to provide more entrepreneurs and business owners with support, but it will also allow us to work alongside partners to truly transform the business climate for southern West Virginia.”
Beyond the project led by the West Virginia Community Development Hub, the ACT Now Coalition will undertake other innovative projects to transform struggling coal country into an Appalachian hub of green jobs, innovative technologies, and climate resilience. The federal grant award will support seven other projects to:
- Transform an old factory in Charleston into the “Learning, Innovation, Food & Technology (LIFT) Center”;
- Revitalize the long-closed ACF Industries factory complex in Huntington into the “Huntington Brownfields Innovation Zone” (H-BIZ) anchored by the RCBI Welding & Robotics Technology Training Center;
- Redevelop the polluted former Black Diamond factory owned by Coalfield Development Corporation in west Huntington in Wayne County into a new solar logistics and job training hub for the Solar Holler company;
- Transform a long-vacant coal miner training building in downtown Logan into the “Just Transition CENTER” for bio-based manufacturing and technology job training;
- Launch “GROW Now” (Growing Resilience Opportunities for Workers) to train a workforce in digital technologies and green buildings led by non-profit Generation West Virginia and the Alliance for Economic Development of Southern WV at Marshall University;
- Establish the “Sustainable Mine Lands” initiative led by West Virginia University and the Nature Conservancy to transform abandoned mines into renewable energy, clean manufacturing, outdoor economy, and green innovation hubs; and
- Launch the “RePower Appalachia” initiative led by Coalfield Development Corporation and the Central Appalachia Network to finance and support renewable energy projects in southern WV.
The ACT Now Coalition launched in Fall 2021 and is led by non-profit Coalfield Development Corporation, bringing together the top leaders of West Virginia’s two largest cities, Charleston and Huntington; the coalfield community of Logan; our top two educational institutions, West Virginia University and Marshall University; WV Governor Jim Justice and WV Development Director Michael Graney; the state’s leading community and economic non-profits including Generation West Virginia, the WV Community Development Hub, Advantage Valley, the West Virginia Hive, the WV Brownfields Assistance Centers, the Central Appalachia Network, the Nature Conservancy and others; and over 50 private sector businesses and job creators.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has backed this effort with a major pledge of $2 million and other support. ACT Now will receive millions of dollars in match and leverage support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Just Transition Foundation, and other philanthropies. U.S. Senator Joe Manchin was a strong backer of ACT Now, and U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin, and other top leadership got involved personally in supporting the coalition’s progress and efforts.
The U.S. Congress passed and President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March 2021, which provided $1 billion to the U.S. Economic Development Administration for a major economic development initiative. EDA launched the “Build Back Better Regional Challenge” competition, inviting regions from across America to put forward the most innovative ideas for economic renewal. From the 529 applications EDA received in October 2021, 60 finalists emerged in December 2021. Coalfield Development was pleased to be a challenge finalist, CEO Brandon Dennison went to the White House with top national leadership, and the ACT Now Coalition and the other finalists each received $500,000 grants to get their economic revitalization plans ready for implementation. In March 2022, the ACT Now Coalition submitted their proposals, and on September 2 the White House announced that WV’s ACT Now Coalition had won.