WASHINGTON—Reconnecting McDowell, a broad partnership addressing a range of complex problems in McDowell County, W.Va., was awarded a $150,000 federal grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to help with the partnership’s teacher housing project and work on an economic development plan for the county.
The $150,000 grant, given to struggling coal-reliant communities like McDowell County, comes at a critical time for Reconnecting McDowell projects. A portion of the grant, $50,000, will be used to help finalize the financial package for the construction of Renaissance Village, the apartment building to be built in downtown Welch, W.Va. The site has been cleared and construction bids are pending for the rental building, intended as an incentive for teachers to come to and stay in the county. As there is very little suitable and available land for construction, Reconnecting McDowell purchased the abandoned Best Furniture buildings in order to build on the property.
One of the top goals of Reconnecting McDowell is to encourage economic development in the county, which was hard-hit by the dwindling coal industry. That’s why Reconnecting McDowell plans to use the remainder of the grant, $100,000, to work with a consulting firm on an economic development plan for the county.
“We have made real progress in McDowell County’s public schools since the Reconnecting McDowell partnership began, but economic development in the county is key to sustained progress. The various partners involved Reconnecting McDowell are committed to thinking outside the box to help bring about a vibrant, stable economy that gets people back to work,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which spearheaded the public-private partnership. The jobless rate in McDowell is 13 percent; the national rate is 5 percent.
Gayle Manchin, chair of Reconnecting McDowell, said: “This grant will get us close to finishing the financing package we need to begin construction of Renaissance Village, and
it’ll kick-start the economic development work that is sorely needed for McDowell. The housing project will be the first new multistory construction in the county in 50 years and will provide jobs for several months. But the county needs a lot more to provide economic stability.”