WAYNE COUNTY – A $1.782 million economic development grant was recently announced by U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R) and Joe Manchin (D) for parts of southwestern West Virginia.

The funding, which is from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Public Works Program, will help provide support for the construction and rehabilitation of the Coalfield Development Corporation’s West Edge Factory in Wayne County. It is important to note that this economic grant is not funded by the POWER Plus (POWER+) Plan, proposed in President Barack Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2016.

According to the EDA’s website, public works programs are in place to empower distressed communities to revitalize, expand, and upgrade their physical and public infrastructure to attract new industry, encourage business expansion, diversify local economics, and generate or retain long-term, private sector jobs and investment. While the POWER+ Plan’s POWER initiative (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) has a purpose similar to the EDA grant, it is specifically budgeted for communities impacted by changes in the power sector and coal industry.

In an age when the United States is experiencing a rapid energy shift and global warming is an oft-voiced public issue, many questions have been raised over pollutants like toxic air emissions, specifically carbon dioxide (CO2), that result from burning coal. Such concerns have, in part, prompted new coal regulation policies from the White House that have been ill-received by many of those affected.

“It is no secret that West Virginia has been targeted by the Obama administration’s anti-coal policies, putting thousands of West Virginians out of work,” Capito said in a recent press release on the grant. “This investment will help retain many displaced miners and create hundreds of new jobs in southern West Virginia.”

Coalfield Development Corporation (CDC) is a family of social enterprises operating in four rural counties in southwestern West Virginia. Each enterprise has sustainable revenue models which ensure significant earned revenue as well as long-term sustainability as all profits are reinvested into the organization’s mission.

According to the Facebook page of Revitalize Appalachia, an enterprise of CDC, the organization’s mission is “to develop Appalachian people and places toward their full potential, power, and purpose.” Since its start in 2010, CDC has been serving this mission by offering on-the-job training to displaced miners who follow the corporation’s 33-6-3 organizational model. The not-for-profit organization also offers free trainings throughout the year in such areas as meth-lab cleanup, mold remediation, and asbestos abatement.

“Over the past three years, Coalfield Development has provided job-training and employment opportunities to over 40 unemployed people from Mingo, Lincoln, and Wayne counties. We have facilitated training resulting in over 200 professional certifications being earned by trainees,” Adam Warren, president of Revitalize Appalachia, told The West Virginia Record.

“This grant investment will create a regional hub from which we can expand (these opportunities). Revitalize Appalachia sees this economic grant as an awesome opportunity for job shadowing, learning better processes to teach our trainees, and job placements for our trainees in the future,” Warren, who grew up in the Appalachian coalfields, said regarding the importance of the grant to the coal-mining community.

Located within the Westmoreland community in Huntington, the old Corbin Building, which was built as a stove factory in 1929, became a major textile mill around the middle of the 20th century. Thousands of locals were employed by the mill from that time until its closing in 1993, when jobs were outsourced overseas.

In 2014, CDC purchased the Corbin Building, redeveloped into the West Edge Factory, and began revitalization on the 93,000-square-foot-building that once faced demolition.

“Like the rest of our service area, Wayne County has suffered a great deal from the decline of the coal industry. West Edge belongs to the community. From day one of this project the local community has been included in planning and designing the revitalization effort,” Warren told The West Virginia Record.

Coal has long been valued and used as a source of energy, not only in West Virginia but throughout the United States. Coal mining became an important industry during the American Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries, when it was used to generate electricity, heat buildings, and power steam engines.

“Coal is important to Wayne County because it is what we know and what we have done for over 100 years,” Warren told The West Virginia Record.

“With its slow decline it is, however, important to begin diversifying the economy in this area, including Wayne County and all of southern West Virginia so that years from now we can still have opportunities in this area for our children and their children.”

The social enterprises currently within the Coalfield Development Corportation are: Reawaken Appalachia, Revitalize Appalachia, Reclaim Appalachia, Refresh Appalachia, Rewire Appalachia, and Rediscover Appalachia.

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