By Stephen Smoot
As part of an effort to work together to solve regional problems, Pendleton and Grant counties have applied to participate in an initiative designed to diversify economic development in the region.
The Building Resilient Economies in Coal Communities, or BRECC, grant comes from the National Association of Counties. As the National Association of Counties website explains, “supported by the U. S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA), BRECC will serve coal communities seeking to revitalize and diversify the economies.”
West Virginia’s dominance in coal production over the 20th century also led to dependency. As the fortunes and prices of the coal industry rose and fell, the state’s economy rode the same roller coaster. While Pendleton County did not directly experience the impact of coal on the county economy, it still felt the ripple effects in a state overly reliant on a single industry.
Grant County, however, shares a coal production area that extends into Tucker and Mineral counties, as well. As Kevin Hagerty, newly elected Grant County Commissioner, explains “it’s essentially for coal counties to diversify their economic opportunities.”
With grant funds, Hagerty says, “We want to expand broadband to help small businesses prosper. We also have opportunities for remote work.”
Laura Brown, Pendleton County Economic and Community Development director, added, “We applied using our joint asset, the Smoke Hole Canyon region, for a remote work program, similar to what WVU offers in the Ascend program.” She said that she hopes that the county obtains “the resources to make a plan for a comparable program in our area with this technical assistance grant.”
Over the past year under Brown’s leadership, the Pendleton County EDA has promoted tourism and remote work as part of the economic future of the region. The BRECC grant’s goals align well with those plans.
Hagerty explains the importance of the two counties working together, stating that “we have worked together in the past with tourism and broadband.” He added that “it will further the relationship that we already have, since we are alike in so many ways.” Hagerty also said that Grant County hopes that this and other projects might help to ease the congestion at Dolly Sods.
BRECC offers four core activities. It creates a national network “open to all local, state, and national stakeholders focused on coal communities.” That will help to foster a “leadership and peer-learning network” enabling innovators to share ideas. The Coal Communities Action Challenge will provide technical assistance for up to 15 coal communities who will “receive coaching and capacity-building support to develop an economic diversification plan.” Finally, the National Storytelling Campaign helps coal communities take their voices to a national audience.
During the national rollout of the initiative last September, Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties said, “We are pleased to lead this initiative to help communities overcome coal-related economic challenges, and we thank the EDA for investing in our local economic resilience.”
Hagerty stated that the initiative receives funding from the American Rescue Plan and Economic Development Administration.
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