$2.2 million to aid region

From staff reports

Clarion University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the Keystone Community Education Council, has been awarded a $2.2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, according to a KCEC news release.

The money will go toward the Northwest Pennsylvania Diversifying the Regional Economy Project, which covers Venango, Clarion, Forest and Crawford counties.

The goal of the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) grant is to bolster educational and economic opportunities, according to a Clarion University news release.

POWER is a congressionally funded initiative that targets federal resources to help communities and regions affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries.

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

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

The grant results in nearly $500,000 in funding for Venango Technology Center and Clarion University’s Venango Campus to invest in equipment and training to support apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programming, KCEC said. In addition, the funding provides nearly $250,000 in financial support for students.

The grant’s objectives, Clarion University said, are to:

– Prepare students for post-secondary education and the workforce.

– Develop and support career-specific education and skills training for students and workers.

– Identify new market opportunities and the growth of businesses, particularly in the advanced manufacturing and energy sectors.

Clarion University President Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson said awarding of the grant “speaks volumes” about northwestern Pennsylvania’s importance to the Appalachian Regional Commission.

ARC, she said, is showing its confidence in Clarion University to work collaboratively and strategically with its partners to make a “direct impact on creating new workforce opportunities and, in turn, a brighter economic future for the region which we serve.”

The university, KCEC and its partners – Venango Technology Center and Community College of Allegheny County – will combine resources to offer four new certificate programs based on regional industries’ needs.

Those new certificate programs are in heating and air-conditioning technology, machine technician, mechatronics technology, and entrepreneurship.

Clarion University said credits that students earn in the certificate programs will be honored by the school and may be used toward an associate degree in applied technology or allied health.

By the end of the three-year project period, it is expected:

– About 150 high school students will have obtained employment or enrolled in further education or training.

– About 75 workers/trainees will have enhanced their current position or found new employment.

– About 30 adult participants will have completed entrepreneurship training and started at least four new businesses.

– Businesses served will have been improved by having a more highly skilled workforce.

ARC federal co-Chairman Tim Thomas said the grant continues a commitment for innovative economic development in coal-impacted communities.

“Investing in key regional needs now will benefit the region and the rest of the country well into the future,” he said.