PRESTONSBURG, Ky. – Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) was awarded a $3.5 million POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce Economic Revitalization) grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to create a vibrant economic future in coal-impacted communities in eastern Kentucky.
“These investments capitalize on the growing momentum for a diverse economy in Appalachia,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl in a press release. “They are strategic, collaborative, and impactful projects making the region more competitive in technology, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, broadband, health, and a variety of other sectors.”
The grant was the largest of the 28 awards announced on Thursday, January 19. BSCTC created the Eastern Kentucky Coal County Transformation (EKCCT) project as a way to launch a comprehensive, employer-driven workforce development program, focused on building the digital economy and strengthening digital innovation and entrepreneurship across a 16-county region in eastern Kentucky. Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC) and Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC) will join BSCTC to create digital innovation hubs for fast-track training for high-speed jobs.
“The transformation that we desire comes when innovation and collaboration collide,” said Joshua Ball, director of strategic communications at Big Sandy Community and Technical College. “By working together and leveraging resources, the Eastern Kentucky Coal County Transformation project will impact lives and serve as a catalyst to launch our region as a significant contributor in the 21st century workforce.”
The EKCCT is a consortium in partnership with Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) as well as BSCTC, HCTC and SKCTC.
The program will establish educational programs that develop workforce skills in emerging regional career clusters such as cybersecurity, medical coding, and advanced manufacturing. The program will specifically engage dislocated workers from the coal industry through targeted advertisements, and will provide adult basic education as needed to ensure that these individuals can participate in the training courses.
“Developing accelerated, immersive, industry-driven training leading directly into employment opportunities in the digital economy — and rooted in real employer demand — will be a key to ensuring that Eastern Kentucky’s men and women can compete for jobs and meet the needs of business today and in the future,” said Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. “We are excited for the opportunity to collaborate with this initiative’s partners at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, Hazard Community and Technical College, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, SOAR, and some of Kentucky’s largest and most innovative healthcare and technology employers to provide critical support for Eastern Kentucky’s workforce, and open new career paths for dislocated workers and others in our region.”
Additionally, the EKCCT program will support the development of a technology-driven economy beyond classroom training. It will identify and promote a number of digital innovation hubs, providing facilities and resources to encourage entrepreneurial activities. Success coaches will be available to instill critical 21st century skills and provide support to nascent technology workers, and a Regional Committee will be established to monitor industry trends and best practices. The project will serve 300 trainees and improve the operations of 30 existing businesses in the first two years of the award, and will lay the groundwork for the development of a vibrant and lasting digital economy in eastern Kentucky.
“We have proved the power of collaboration in eastern Kentucky and have shown what is possible in the digital economy,” said Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR. “I’m excited to see this program expanding to more campuses, and believe it is an important next step in the continued economic diversification of Appalachia Kentucky.”