Local Collaborative Group Awarded ARC POWER Grant

Clarion University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the Keystone Community Education Council (KCEC), has been awarded a POWER grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for the Northwest Pennsylvania Diversifying the Regional Economy Project. The project covers Clarion, Crawford, Forest and Venango Counties.  The POWER acronym from ARC promotes Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization.

The $2.2 million grant will be managed by Clarion University, with KCEC facilitating programming efforts in conjunction with other partners. Funding for the program will run through November 2021 and consists of $1.1 million from ARC and $1.1 million of in-kind contributions from partnerships.

Members of this collaborative group include Keystone Community Education Council (KCEC), Clarion University (CU), Venango Technology Center (VTC), Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), the Northwest PA Oil & Gas HUB (HUB), and the Steel Valley Authority (SVA).

“We laid the groundwork for the POWER grant when we set up a transition program to help the Joy Corporation when its layoffs occurred,” said Lance Hummer, executive director of KCEC.  “We’ve had grants from the ARC before, but never as big as the current one,” he added.

There are several objectives in the grant.  The first is to prepare students for post-secondary education and the workforce.  The way that will be accomplished is through pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs in conjunction with area businesses and KCEC, VTC, CU and SVA.

The grant will mean nearly $500,000 in funding for the Venango Technology Center and Clarion University’s Venango Campus, allowing these institutions to invest in equipment and training to support apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programming.  Resources will be available to link and inform students, families, and educators of the programs’ benefits.  Additionally, the ARC POWER funding provides nearly $250,000 in financial support for students to ensure that the training is affordable and accessible.

The second objective of the grant is to “develop and support career-specific education and skills training for students and workers.”  KCEC, Northwest PA Oil & Gas HUB, and SVA, will work with employers to promote existing apprenticeships, as well as develop new ones.  For example, a Plastic Process Technician apprenticeship is being developed to help meet the demands of the growing plastics industry.

KCEC has already worked with the CCAC and the VTC in promoting adult-certificate programs, such as their Welding Technology Certificate, in which students earn 18 college credits.  By combining their resources, KCEC, CU, CCAC, and VTC plan to offer four new certificate programs based on needs identified by regional industries.

These programs include Machine Technician (23 credits), Mechatronics/Industrial Maintenance (30 credits), and an Entrepreneurship certificate program.  All of these programs are related to the petrochemical and energy industries and are open to adults wanting to upgrade their skills.

Another example of career-specific education would be earning an associate degree in Applied Technologies.  Both CU and CCAC will accept credits students earn during certificate programs, and those credits can be applied toward earning an associate degree as well.

The third objective of the grant is to identify new market opportunities and the growth of businesses, particularly in the advanced manufacturing and energy sectors.  The hope is that recent college graduates will start new companies and that current businesses will expand to capitalize on the growth that the shale gas industry will provide.

Another integral part of meeting the grant’s third objective is promoting an Entrepreneurship program.  This will be a 10-week CCAC Workforce Development certificate program.  Participants for this program will be recruited by project staff.  Dislocated workers with strong manufacturing backgrounds will be prime candidates for this.

The strategic rationale for the POWER grant issued by the ARC to grant partners is to improve the lack of educational and economic opportunities.  Northwest Pennsylvania has been negatively impacted by the downturn in the coal industry.  Also, our region’s college completion rate is below state, national, and Appalachian region standards.  The POWER grant aligns with existing regional initiatives.

The goal of the project is that 150 high school students will have obtained employment or enrolled in further education or training, 75 workers/trainees will have enhanced their position or found new employment, and 30 adult participants will have completed entrepreneurship training and started at least four businesses.

The ARC’s POWER grant for the entire region is comprised of $22.8 million and 33 awards.  These investments are projected to create or retain nearly 1,000 jobs, benefit over 3,300 students and workers, and leverage more than $21.8 million in private investment into manufacturing, agriculture, technology, substance abuse recovery, broadband development, and other industry sectors across coal-impacted communities in nine Appalachian states.

“Today’s announcement continues an ongoing commitment for innovative economic development in Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas. “Investing in key regional needs now will benefit the Region, and the rest of the country, well into the future.”