The grants are the first deliverables on the promise President Obama made in his 2013 climate-change speech at Georgetown University, in which he said "We're going to give special care to people and communities that are unsettled by this transition." All the money was appropriated by Congress, which Obama is asking for more.
"These investments are going to make a difference in coal-impacted Appalachian communities," ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl said in a conference call with journalists.
The grants will come from the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. They agencies project that the money will create 3,418 jobs and an additional $67 million leveraged through investments from other public and private partners.
Those estimates may be exaggerated for the largest grant, $7,474,100 from EDA and ARC to the University of Pikeville in Eastern Kentucky for its Kentucky College of Optometry to purchase equipment and other materials to help launch the new college. The agencies said the college will have $26 million in direct economic impact to the regional economy. Work on the college started before the grant program was announced, but EDA Administrator Jay Williams said in a telephone press conference that the money would make sure the equipment is up to date.
The coal downturn in the region is largely blamed on Obama, though cheap natural gas may have as much or more to do with it, as well as geological factors. Jason Walsh of the White House Domestic Policy Council said, "There will continue to be a robust public debate about why the energy landscape is changing," but people in the coalfields "are less interested in that debate and are more interested in funding solutions."
Other major awards are:
- $2,750,000 ARC grant to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program in Hazard for "TechHire Eastern Kentucky Initiative: Developing a Technology-Driven Workforce."
- $2,500,000 in grants to the Bluewell Public Service District in Bluefield, W.Va., for improvement of the Mercer County Regional Airport.
- $2,285,049 EDA grant to the Upshur County Development Authority in Buckhannon, W.Va., for a center to help small businesses and provide broadband access.
- $2,196,450 ARC grant to the Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education in Charleston, W.Va., for "EntreEd K-14: Every Student, Every Year."
- $2,022,133 ARC grant to the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, based in Berea, Ky. for "Economic Transition for Eastern Kentucky."
- $2,000,000 ARC grant to Ohio University for "Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Toward Sustainability."
- $1,500,000 ARC grant to Appalachian Sustainable Development in Abington, Va. for the Central Appalachian Food Enterprise Corridor.
- $1,464,251 ARC grant to the University of Kentucky Research Foundation in Lexington, Ky. for the Downtown Revitalization in the Promise Zone project.