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It’s time for Valley to reap potential of green industry

Appalachia is rich in resources that span physical and social realms. A rich natural environment, an intentional network of infrastructure and a ready workforce unique to each community, when we work together as a region, is the best way to revitalize and bring our economies into the 21st century. With the right partnerships and federal investment, this region has potential to become a hub for green industrial manufacturing.

Struthers recently was awarded a $50,000 Appalachian Regional Commission POWER planning grant to develop a regional strategic plan for green industrial manufacturing for parts of eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. ARC is an economic development agency of the U.S. government and 13 states recognizing the importance of strategic planning.

Catalyzing the growth of green manufacturing in the Ohio River Valley can build on our regional assets, including former steel facilities, shuttered coal plants and the region’s skilled workforce. Our region has been left behind since the collapse of the steel and coal industries. Struggling to find a path for prosperity and a new identity, reviving dormant infrastructure to support a green industrial manufacturing ecosystem in Appalachia can provide our region with a promising future.

We believe we can use the same infrastructure that put this region on the map years ago to participate in the new, green economy. Dormant facilities once used on the foundation of steel and coal, with their existing transportation and energy infrastructure, can be repurposed for green industrial manufacturing operations. This shift is necessary, as is the philosophy, “Keep up or get left behind.”

For example, Appalachia has long been a global leader in plastics — an industry proven to be hazardous to the natural environment, including humans. We believe Appalachia can become a hub for the next generation of plastic alternatives. We also believe this industry is aligned with two of our deepest embedded identities — farmers and manufacturers. We have land and capacity to produce sustainable industrial fibers and materials, which can be grown using regenerative agricultural practices that can restore our soils and our regional pride.

The ARC Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) planning grant awarded to Struthers will be used to conduct a study of the tri-state region’s assets as they relate to green industrial manufacturing industries, with a focus on industrial hemp. These assets include industrial infrastructure, transportation networks, farmland, processing facilities, workforce development programs and existing businesses and organizations operating in the industry. Placed into a framework based on logistics and feasibility pertaining to the industry, recommendations to organize and utilize the assets in the green industrial manufacturing supply chain pipeline will be set forth. The ARC POWER grant is the first step, with hope of securing implementation dollars to grow recommended operations in the region.

The unfolding green manufacturing industry will create well-paying jobs, and it will grow employment in a way that builds local wealth without relying on absentee corporations in the extractive industries that damage land and well-being of workers and neighbors. Beyond physical infrastructure, this strategic plan will consider how to connect the region’s skilled workforce with any additional training needed.

Reimagining an historic industrial building on a former steel mill location as an eco-industrial park that expands state-of-the-art broadband access and green manufacturing opportunities to the community are ideas that can spread throughout the region.

The bottom line is this strategic plan can help reimagine, repurpose and grow Appalachia’s unique assets to claim its place in the future’s green economy. A climate-friendly industrial strategy is a critical element of building economic opportunity and quality of life throughout the region — and all around the globe. That work starts by empowering legacy cities that have been negatively impacted by the loss of steel and coal to offer a new sense of hope to their communities through the new green economy.

The funding received for this project is part of $46.4 million that ARC awarded to support 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through the commissioners POWER initiative. Ohio projects alone have been awarded $6.3 million, representing a significant opportunity for this region to pivot away from oil, gas, and other unsustainable industries.

We deserve more. And we hope this strategy will encourage our elected officials to think bigger and bolder, and to see climate solutions as an opportunity to create a way forward in the region.

Samantha Yannucci and Kristen Olmi are with Green Industrial Manufacturing Ecosystem Inc. in Struthers.

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