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Generation West Virginia and Partners to Receive $15 Million from U.S. Department of Commerce to Launch Workforce Development Initiative

Generation West Virginia is part of $62.8 Million ACT Now Coalition grant awarded in national challenge to create new economic revitalization in climate resilience and green technologies.

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Photo by Mike Friel from the Robert C. Byrd Institute.

CHARLESTON, W.V.  — Sept. 2, 2022 – Generation West Virginia and its partners in the ACT Now Coalition will receive more than $62 million in U.S. Economic Development Administration funding, leveraged with another $26 million in match from non-federal sources, to support transformational economic growth, the agency announced today. The Coalition, led by Coalfield Development Corporation, is one of 21 awardees of the Build Back Better Regional Challenge.

Generation West Virginia will spearhead the workforce development initiatives of the coalition. Partners on this initiative include Coalfield Development, The Alliance for the Economic Development of Southern WV, High Rocks, and WVU’s Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative. Additional support will be provided by Workforce West Virginia, Appalachia Connect, The Hive, Advantage Valley, the WV Office of Energy, and Mountwest Community College. The initiative will receive key match and leverage support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Just Transition Fund.

“We are thrilled that U.S. EDA recognizes the importance of our place-based workforce development strategies here in West Virginia. This historic investment will enable us and our partners to scale innovative programs that address unique challenges in West Virginia’s workforce,” said Alex Weld, Executive Director of Generation West Virginia. “We’re incredibly proud and also eager to continue this great work with the support of the EDA.”

The initiative will serve the ACT Now region of 21 coal-impacted counties in southern West Virginia, with additional benefits statewide. This collaborative effort between WV’s proven workforce development leaders is set to build a cohesive system for training, placement, and retention in order to accelerate, and sustain, the climate technology industry here in West Virginia.

These efforts address regional barriers to employment by offering earn-and-learn and low or no-cost training models for people disadvantaged by the generational impacts of coal decline. This work will elevate the regional workforce system to support the growth, profitability, and job creation of existing and emerging climate tech businesses.

“For decades, we’ve known the economy of southern West Virginia needs diversification,” said Brandon Dennison, CEO of Coalfield Development. “Some progress has been made on this goal, but not nearly enough. ACT Now constitutes a tangible opportunity to take a major leap forward in this generational challenge to become a vibrant, growing, diversified economy. In the wake of continued coal-job losses, nothing could be more important for our region.”

Beyond the project led by Generation West Virginia, 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;
  • Establish the “Sustainable Mine Lands” initiative led by West Virginia University and the Nature Conservancy to transformed abandoned mines into renewable energy, clean manufacturing, outdoor economy, and green innovation hubs;
  • Fund the “Community + Business Resilience Initiative” led by the WV Community Development Hub, the WV Brownfields Assistance Centers, Advantage Valley, and the WV Hive Network to help communities, small businesses, and entrepreneurs get ready for these new green jobs and economic development; 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 $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge  is the marquee of EDA’s American Rescue Plan programs that aims to boost economic recovery from the pandemic and rebuild American communities, including those grappling with decades of disinvestment.

The Challenge provides transformational investments to develop and strengthen regional industry clusters across the country, all while embracing equitable economic growth, creating good-paying jobs, and enhancing U.S. global competitiveness.

From the 529 applications EDA received in October 2021, 60 finalists emerged in December 2021.The ACT Now Coalition was pleased to be a challenge finalist, and the Coalition and the other finalists each received $500,000 grants to get their economic revitalization plans ready for implementation.