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Gayle Manchin, ARC federal co-chair, speaks during a virtual event Sept. 16.

MATEWAN — The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization hosted a virtual event in Matewan Thursday to announce the award of $46.4 million in funds for 57 projects to support economic diversification in coal-impacted communities.

The funding for the projects was made possible through ARC’s POWER — Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization — Initiative, which targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries.

According to a report released by the Interagency Working Group, 40 of West Virginia’s 55 counties have been identified as priority areas.

“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia,” said Gayle Manchin, ARC Federal Co-Chair. “That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities. Many of the projects we announced today will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments are critical in leveling the economic playing field so Appalachian communities can thrive.”

Interagency Working Group Executive Director Brian Anderson hosted five panel sessions during the virtual event Thursday highlighting work done by previous POWER award recipients. Topics included recreating vibrant downtowns, strengthening emerging sectors, building a competitive workforce, expanding broadband access and fostering entrepreneurship.

“The Appalachian Regional Commission is doing vital and timely work on the ground supporting Appalachia’s energy communities,” Anderson said. “We are pleased to be their partner, and today’s forum was designed to help advance their mission by sharing information on funding available to coal communities and sharing ideas and best practices on strengthening coal-impacted communities and their economies.”

The event also included a virtual tour of Matewan, where the event was originally supposed to be held in person. Due to a continued rise in COVID-19 cases, however, the event was moved to a virtual platform.

Since 2015, ARC has invested over $287 million in 362 projects touching 353 counties across Appalachia through the POWER Initiative. Together, these investments are projected to create or retain nearly 35,000 jobs, leverage more than $1.5 billion in additional private investment into Appalachia’s economy, and prepare tens of thousands of workers and students for opportunities in entrepreneurship, broadband development, tourism, and other industry sectors. POWER investments also support workforce-to-recovery and other comprehensive strategies to strengthen the Region’s Recovery Ecosystem

ARC plans to announce additional POWER projects later this year.

HD Media reporter Nancy Peyton primarily covers news in Lincoln County.

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