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Two West Virginia entries are among the 60 finalists in the “Build Back Better Regional Challenge,” which occupies the marquee spot among the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s American Rescue Plan programs. The 60 finalists were chosen from a pool of 529 applicants.

The coalition lead applicant, the West Virginia Department of Economic Development, proposes to create a defense and national security industry cluster in West Virginia’s southern and central energy communities. The aim is to capitalize on the skills of the region’s veterans, to support the work.

The coalition proposes to execute seven projects:

  • production of high-value products from carbon
  • recapture and recycling of energy material
  • creation of a national security/military activity center
  • production of data analytics tailored to the creation of a national security/military activity center
  • expansion of infrastructure for site readiness and certification
  • aid and invest in workforce development
  • fostering innovation and coordinating entrepreneurial support services.

Finalists will now compete for Phase Two of the challenge, which will award 20 to 30 regional coalitions up to $100 million. That money will implement three to eight projects that support an industry sector. The deadline for Phase Two is March 15, 2022.

The West Virginia Department of Economic Development project, RESCUING Industries, stands for Revitalizing Economic Security for Communities Utilizing Innovative Next Generation Industries. It was classified in the aerospace and defense cluster.

Coalfield Development is another West Virginia applicant, with its Appalachian Climate Technologies, known as ACT Now. The coalition focus is to improve the local economy and environmental sustainability by favoring climate-conscious business practices. It hopes to create at least 3,000 new jobs by expanding the solar industry, sustainably reclaiming former mine lands, supporting local entrepreneurs and small businesses, retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient, and attracting “green” manufacturers to the area.

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“Thank you to the U.S. EDA and our many partners for believing in this bold vision for a new Appalachian economy,” Coalfield Development CEO Brandon Dennison said. “Our message to national leaders has been clear and consistent: Appalachia needs major investment, and we need it quickly. This is an impressive response from our federal leaders. We will continue collaborating with our partners with a great sense of urgency. In the face of economic uncertainty caused by continued challenges in the coal industry, and in the face of repeated climate disasters in the form of floods or tornadoes or droughts, time is not our ally. We have to act now for our people, and we have to act now for our planet.”

The $1 billion challenge aims to boost economic pandemic recovery and rebuild communities, including some that have been grappling with decades of disinvestment. A prime example would be the West Virginia coalfields, which have languished in recent years.

The program provides transformative investments — up to $100 million per grantee — to develop and strengthen regional industry clusters across the country.

The 60 finalists — each a coalition of partnering entities — have proposed projects that will develop or scale industry sectors, develop and train the workforce of today and build resilient economies.

Monday’s finalists will each receive a grant of approximately $500,000 to further develop their proposed projects.

These grants will help the finalists take their projects to the next level and position those who ultimately do not receive Phase 2 implementation awards to find new partners and sources of funding.

— Staff, wire reports

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