U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Jay Williams and other federal officials joined Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear in Lexington, KY last week to announce the POWER initiative to assist coal communities.
POWER is an acronym for Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization. It is part of the POWER+ Plan outlined in the President’s FY 2016 Budget to invest in coal communities, workers and technology.
The Goal of POWER is to align and leverage federal workforce and economic development programs and resources to assist communities negatively impacted by changes in the coal industry and power sector.
To this end, federal grants totaling $28-$38 million will be awarded this year alone through the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Department of Labor, Small Business Administration, and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
These grants will serve as catalytic funding for targeted projects to leverage additional funding from the private sector and other federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The POWER grants will be awarded through a two-track process keeping in mind that many of these communities will need some form of pre-planning technical assistance in order to be able to apply for either planning or implementation grants.
Track One planning grants from the EDA or DOL will be awarded to communities impacted by coal mining and coal power plant employment loss who haven’t recently developed comprehensive economic development strategic plans.
The Track Two implementation grants will be made by EDA, DOL, SBA and ARC to communities impacted by coal mining and coal power plant employment loss who have already done robust strategic planning.
These implementation grants will be used by communities to develop high-potential industry clusters, accelerate job creation by leveraging local assets, train and place workers in high-demand jobs, and to create linkages that drive regional economic growth.
The Economic Development Administration will chip in with up to $15 million across both tracks, supported by $10-20 million from DOL, and up to $3 million from SBA. The ARC will provide up to $500,000 for technical assistance and demonstration projects from its region.
Going forward, the Budget proposes more than $55 million for implementation of targeted workforce and economic development strategies through POWER for fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
Assistant Secretary Williams said in a release announcing the initiative that EDA is proud to be leading the POWER initiative and they look forward to working with their federal partners to help communities diversify their economies and help workers get the skills they need to adapt to and thrive in this changing economy.
Apart from POWER, the U.S. Economic Development Administration is also collaborating with the National Association of Development Organizations and the National Association of Counties to support economic diversification efforts by coal-reliant communities through an Innovation Challenge.
The NADO Research Foundation and NACo, supported by the EDA, are hosting three intensive, hands-on workshops designed to assist coal-reliant communities diversify their economies. Counties and regions can form teams and apply to enter the program, and winning teams will get to attend one of the workshops.