HUNTINGTON — Three initiatives aiming to improve the job prospects and health for Southern West Virginia residents have received more than $6 million in funding, the Robert C. Byrd Institute and other organizations announced Thursday.
In an announcement of the funding at the RCBI Institute, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl and others touted the potential of the initiatives and their necessity in a region struggling for economic answers.
“Appalachia is the next great investment opportunity in America,” Gohl said. “It’s that way because of the folks that live here. They work hard to make sure the place is better for their kids and grandkids than it was for them.”
The funding includes $3.3 million to the Appalachian Hatchery project, which provides assistance to local manufacturers; $1.7 million for the Sprouting Farms project, which supports the agriculture industry in seven counties by educating farmers and helping to launch farm businesses; and $1.3 million for the Community Health Workers project, which streamlines health care services and helps provide those services to high-risk patients in coalfield communities.
The funding comes from agencies that include the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Economic Development Authority and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.
Gohl said the challenge will be in making sure the initiatives see progress post-funding.
“By investing in the RCBI to do its incredible work, we can help businesses impacted that are a part of the coal supply chain,” Gohl said. “We can work with those entrepreneurs to grow again and capture new markets.”
The RCBI, a Marshall University-based nonprofit sustained through grants and federal funding, provides assistance ranging from business consulting to on-site equipment use for startups and manufacturers.
Manchin said in his remarks that West Virginia has “the greatest opportunity” if it can establish a healthy and trained workforce, pointing out the opioid crisis in the southern part of the state.
“We are ground zero,” Manchin said of West Virginia’s place in the opioid epidemic. “But the school of excellence starts right here. This is the model for America.”
Manchin added that he believes the Appalachian Regional Commission is West Virginia’s facilitator for developing community infrastructure and the economy.
Besides the announced RCBI funding, the Appalachian Regional Commission has invested $75.5 million in coal-reliant areas of Appalachia through the POWER initiative. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump proposed in his federal budget proposal to eliminate all of the ARC’s funding.
Jenkins said the announced funding is another step in the process to put West Virginia’s economy back on the right path through job creation.
“West Virginians are hurting, and one of the pieces of the puzzle is to get the policies right,” Jenkins said. “You need to be growing jobs to attract jobs. A good job solves a lot of problems.”
According to an RCBI news release, the Sprouting Farms initiative will provide technical assistance and prepare new farm businesses through an RCBI apprenticeship program, helping launch 20 new ventures and create 33 new jobs.
The Appalachian Hatchery project will help local businesses with market expansion, development and product prototyping. The RCBI expects 105 new jobs to be created and 35 new ventures to start as a result, along with worker skills training to more than 100 individuals.
The Community Health Workers program will create 26 jobs and assist patients with diabetes, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the RCBI. It is expected to serve 625 patients in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.
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