POWER Initiative to focus existing federal money on transition efforts in Central Appalachia

The Obama Administration announced today the implementation of a key part of its POWER Plus Plan to assist transition efforts in Central Appalachia: the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative.

The POWER Initiative will establish partnerships between multiple federal agencies to award grants to new and existing economic transition projects in the region. Funding will come from already appropriated fiscal year 2015 funds from several federal programs. In other words: This is not new funding, but is existing funding that has already been approved for dispersal.

Grants will be awarded through two parallel grant tracks: planning and implementation:

  • Planning Grants: Funding will come from, and grants will be awarded by, the Departments of Commerce (DOC) and Labor (DOL)  to communities impacted by job losses in coal mining and coal-fired power plants, but that do not have existing economic development strategic plans in place. Funding would be used to help develop such strategic plans, organize community stakeholders, and analyze and inventory community assets. Funds could also be used for job re-training for unemployed workers.
  • Implementation Grants: Funding will come from, and be awarded by, DOC, DOL, the Small Business Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission. These grants will be given to coalfield communities that have already started, or have in place, economic development strategic plans. They will help develop industry clusters, accelerate job creation through local assets, train and place workers in new jobs, and create partnerships that drive economic development.

Specific funding amounts for planning grants is not noted, but for implementation grants, up to $15 million will go toward economic assistance and partnership planning, $10-20 million will be used for unemployed worker training and employment support, $3 million will be used for development of innovation clusters and growth accelerators, and $500,000 will be available to support technical assistance and demonstration projects. In all, the POWER Initiative will direct $28-38 million to economic transition efforts in Central Appalachia. This funding will lay the groundwork for an upcoming multi-year $55 million federal investment, discussed previously in the POWER Plus Plan.

When the administration announced the POWER Plus Plan in February, some were unsure about follow through, and from where the money would come to implement the initiatives presented in the plan. That’s part of what makes the announcement about the POWER Initiative such an exciting development. Not only does it put on full display the administration’s commitment to reinvesting in Central Appalachian communities in the wake of coal’s decline, but it is also real, tangible, existing funding that can have a big impact.

The POWER Initiative can be a catalyst for bringing existing transition efforts to scale in a meaningful way. It could help create jobs at local enterprises, while helping small business owners keep the doors open through increased technical assistance. It could increase investment in and grow local sectors that are based on homegrown assets and that could become the foundation of a thriving, sustainable economy, like energy efficiency, forestry and local foods.

But perhaps more than anything, the POWER Initiative demonstrates the federal government’s increased and dedicated commitment to helping the region reach the bright future its been marching toward for decades. Certainly, this initiative is not the final stop on that journey, but surely, it is a massive step in the right direction.