Harrisburg, PA (STL.News) Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf Thursday announced that Pennsylvania was awarded more than $8 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for 10 projects in counties affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production.
“We want to provide the same opportunities to all Pennsylvanians regardless of their zip code, and grant programs like this bring us one step closer to that reality,” said Gov. Wolf. “These projects will enable affected regions access to new technology, new resources, and new services that will help improve both the business climate and quality of life, revitalizing communities and creating new possibilities for those who live within them.”
The Obama administration launched the POWER Initiative in 2015 and awarded nearly $15 million to coal-impacted communities, making investments in seven Appalachian states. Since 2015, ARC has invested over $190 million in 239 projects touching 326 counties across Appalachia through the POWER Initiative. Together, these investments are projected to create or retain more than 23,000 jobs and leverage more than $811 million in additional private investment into Appalachia’s economy.
“As the economies of coal communities declined, less funding was available to complete the infrastructure projects needed to attract new businesses. This includes high-speed, reliable broadband internet access,” said Sheri Collins, Acting Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Broadband Initiatives. “The projects funded by this round of ARC grants will help coal communities establish the level of broadband access required to compete in today’s economy, removing a major obstacle to starting or relocating a business in this region.”
The 10 projects are as follows:
• $2,500,000 to Tioga County in Wellsboro for the Northern Pennsylvania Broadband Connectivity Project. Tioga County, in conjunction with Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, will construct over 175 miles of fiber in Tioga, Potter, and Lycoming counties to bring access to reliable high-speed broadband to 60 businesses and 581 households in one of the most under-served areas of rural Pennsylvania. From 2007-17, Tri-County Electric Cooperative’s service area saw a 66 percent decrease in the number of active coal mines, with a drop of 42 percent in mine employment. The new fiber network will help bolster economic development, assist educational institutions, provide telemedicine opportunities for area hospitals, assist healthcare workers in addressing the opioid crisis, and help prevent youth out-migration. Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative is providing $3,242,125 for the project.
• $1,500,000 to the Venango County Economic Development Authority in Franklin for the Business Innovation Center and Fiber Optic Expansion project. This grant will fund the development of a new Business Innovation Center, including a co-working and maker space, in Oil City and will expand a fiber optic network throughout the business district served by the Center. Within three years of completion, the Innovation Center will launch the development of 20 new businesses, and at least 29 businesses will connect to the new fiber network. The project is projected to leverage $1,200,000 in private investment as entrepreneurs create 12 new businesses using these new community assets.
• $1,223,551 to Bridgeway Capital in Pittsburgh for the Western Pennsylvania Entrepreneur Diversification Fund. Through a combination of technical assistance to entrepreneurs and the capitalization of a revolving loan fund, Bridgeway Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution, will promote entrepreneurial activity across its 15-county service area of western Pennsylvania, a region that’s economy has been adversely affected by the decline in the coal industry. Activities will include business development workshops, one-on-one counseling, support for a regional business incubator, and small grants to entrepreneurs for training and licensure. The project is expected to lead to the creation of 65 new businesses and 200 new jobs, while leveraging $5,625,000 in private investment. Additional funding is being provided by Penn State University, the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, and the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority. Private capital for the revolving loan fund is being provided by TriState Capital Bank.
• $725,850 to Clearfield County in Clearfield for the North Central PA Launchbox and Innovation Collaborative. The project will equip the Collaborative’s business incubator to offer three sets of services: a makerspace with sophisticated equipment; research and development services to help manufacturers solve problems; and a training center that offers opportunities in powdered metals, automation, and additive manufacturing. The Collaborative seeks to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing wraparound services that increase access to capital, up-skill local talent to secure advanced manufacturing jobs, and provide technical assistance and specialized manufacturing support services for businesses. The project rests on a broad network of partners, including Penn State Dubois, the Clarion Small Business Development Center, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and North Central Regional Planning & Development Commission. It will benefit seven counties in North Central Pennsylvania and lead to the improvement of 45 businesses and 60 workers/trainees.
• $500,000 to the City of Erie for the Erie, Pennsylvania Broadband Deployment program. Grant funds will expand the Erie Innovation District’s Secure Smart City pilot initiative by providing free public Wi-Fi access in Erie. The initiative will provide outdoor Wi-Fi access; urban security solutions, including license plate recognition and traffic monitoring; analytics that can be tracked on a visualization dashboard; and the ability to remotely control streetlights. An additional investment of $900,000 from other sources will enable other Smart City components to become operational within the area. Erie hopes to become an entirely Smart City by 2028.
• $50,000 to the Greene County Board of Commissioners in Waynesburg for the Rural Broadband Coverage and Feasibility Study. This study will identify county-wide gaps in broadband access and will determine the best technology to fill these gaps (such as fiber, white space, cable, and DSL). When Greene County, which has experienced significant mining job losses, updated its comprehensive plan in 2018, the top-ranked issue identified was a need to expand broadband access. The feasibility study will review the county’s broadband assets, conduct a field survey of existing broadband access, determine customer demand, identify the best technology options for service gaps, and develop an implementation matrix.
• $50,000 to the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission in Altoona for a South-Central Pennsylvania Broadband Infrastructure Assessment. This feasibility study will identify ways of increasing broadband and cellular services to residents and businesses in an eight-county region of South-Central Pennsylvania. These eight counties have experienced economic downturn from the decline of mining and manufacturing industries and expanded broadband access could create new economic opportunities for the region. The study will identify the broadband assets already in place, assess community broadband requirements, identify the best technology to meet the needs, and provide cost estimates for different deployment strategies.
$50,000 to tecBRIDGE, LLC in Scranton for the Enhancing Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem – Incubator Optimization project. This project will assess the business incubation climate and assets in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Schuylkill and Wayne counties and identify proven programs that can be replicated in communities to strengthen the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem and support the successful startup and expansion of small businesses.
• $20,000 to Fay-Penn Economic Development Council (Fay-Penn) in Lamont Furnace for the Fayette County Multi-Tenant Spec Building Feasibility Study. The study will determine the feasibility of constructing multi-tenant speculative (“spec”) shell buildings at various locations throughout Fayette County to accommodate and attract new business development. Fay-Penn has received an increasing number of inquiries from companies seeking industrial/commercial space availability. In many cases, especially for larger building size needs, the county does not have readily available, suitable space. The feasibility study will determine priority locations for development, building requirements for those companies, economic impacts of spec buildings, and marketing approaches for new development.
• $1,423,497 to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Coalition (SPC) in Pittsburgh for the Shale POWER project. The project will develop regional centers for technical assistance to manufacturers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio that are seeking to expand into the shale energy sector. The technical assistance and business support will target small and medium enterprises and will include mini-grants, one-to-one counseling, and training. Shale POWER will engage directly with these entities to connect them to the shale-manufacturing sectors, develop business strategies for expanding in these sectors, and support workforce and job development to meet the burgeoning demand in shale-related markets. The project is expected to create 400 new jobs, retain 600 existing jobs, and create 50 new businesses.
The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.
The POWER Initiative is a multi-agency effort aligning and targeting federal economic and workforce development resources to communities and workers that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production. ARC is participating in the initiative with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).