A-B Tech Community College has been awarded $1.5 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to equip its advanced manufacturing program to support “Industry 4.0” learning to prepare workers with the necessary skills for living-wage jobs.
The award is part of a $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries. Additional support for the Western North Carolina Center of Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing is provided by the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) Customized Training Program.
“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia; that’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Many of the projects we announced today will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal-impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”
“We appreciate the Appalachian Regional Commission’s investment in bringing these skills to Western North Carolina’s workforce,” said A-B Tech President John D. Gossett. A-B Tech plans to use the funds to equip its Advanced Manufacturing Center as a Center of Excellence.
“A lot of our local manufacturers— Eaton, Thermo-Fisher, Borg Warner, Pratt & Whitney—are evolving toward implementing Industry 4.0,” said Kevin Kimrey, A-B Tech’s director of Economic and Workforce Development. “I’m really excited for A-B Tech to be equipped to teach this new approach to manufacturing. To my knowledge, Kingsport, Tennessee and Spartanburg, South Carolina are the closest schools offering this kind of cutting-edge education, and the only other North Carolina schools offering it are Central Piedmont and Wake Tech.”
Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested more than $284 million in 320 projects across 353 coal-impacted counties. The $46.4 million awarded today is projected to create/retain over 9,306 jobs, attract nearly $525 million in leveraged private investments, and be matched by $59.2 million in additional public and private funds across the Region.
ARC is working with Chamberlin/Dunn LLC, a third-party research firm, to closely monitor, analyze, and evaluate these investments. A new report, published in conjunction with the announcement, drew on 72 stories representing 44 unique POWER projects funded between fiscal years 2015-2020 to determine the most significant changes that occurred as a result of POWER.
The evaluation found that projects funded through POWER grants met or exceeded targets for jobs retained and/or created, businesses created, workers trained, and revenues increased. Chamberlin/Dunn is continuing to monitor POWER investments and make recommendations to ARC for ongoing programmatic efficiencies.