Flanked by three federal officials who oversee economic development programs, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) Tuesday led a roundtable work session to discuss a Federal initiative aimed at assisting entrepreneurs and small businesses in creating and sustaining jobs in southern West Virginia.
"I routinely talk with constituents who have plans to improve and expand their business, but simply need some guidance and support. Giving these energetic entrepreneurs the technical assistance and resources they need can literally be the investment of a lifetime," said Rahall. "In this time of budget austerity, we must use scare resources wisely, and that's the goal of this initiative -- to foster local partnerships that can leverage Federal funds in aiding small businesses and entrepreneurs and facilitating economic growth and job creation."
The roundtable event at Marshall University's Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing was designed to recognize two West Virginia applicants -- Southern West Virginia Rural Jobs Accelerator, a local public-private partnership that is receiving a combined total of $717,985 in federal funds; and, West Virginia Value Chain Cluster Initiative, which has been awarded a combined total of $815,000 in federal funds -- as winners in the Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge. It is a pioneering effort of interagency collaboration, combining the resources of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA).
The Southern West Virginia Rural Jobs Accelerator supports a partnership between Marshall and Concord Universities, TechConnect West Virginia, and the Natural Capital Investment Fund to create workforce development opportunities in advanced manufacturing and tourism across southern West Virginia. Under the leadership of the Natural Capital Investment Fund, the statewide West Virginia Value Chain Cluster Initiative targets job creation in four regional food-related value chain clusters by helping participants grow output and increase revenues.
"Nationwide, manufacturers estimate that they could not fill 600,000 jobs earlier this year because they could not find workers with the needed skills. Time and again, manufacturers in southern West Virginia have told me the same thing. The skills gap is real! Unless, as a country, we invest in closing that gap with efforts like today's, our worldwide competitors will clean our collective manufacturing clock," said Rahall.
As the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over economic development agencies like the EDA and ARC, Rahall was instrumental in encouraging the Rural Jobs initiative.