Our urban Appalachian neighborhoods have been completely transformed in the past few decades by the economic shifts that have impacted the entire country. The loss of the industrial jobs that brought Appalachians to greater Cincinnati have all but disappeared, and this created economic vacuums in the urban Appalachian neighborhoods. The impact of this change has been devastating at times. These kinds of issues are at the heart of the work of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. With the changes occurring in coal-related industries directly east of greater Cincinnati, we are potentially witnessing another shift in the economic landscape. As coal-fired electricity plants close along the Ohio River and through the corridor that stretches from Appalachian Ohio to the edge of Cincinnati, job losses create a void in communities at each step.
When the Beckjord Power Plant closed in 2015, about 150 people lost jobs as a result. The Killen Power Plant in Adams County was decommissioned in 2018, and the Stuart Power Plant also closed in 2018. The Moscow Plant, just east of Cincinnati, is scheduled to shut down in 2027. The transition from coal-fired power to cleaner sources of energy is, in the long run, a necessary and positive step. But with each of these steps, people lose jobs and the impact of this kind of job loss ripples through our communities hitting Appalachian and urban Appalachian communities particularly hard. As a major step toward providing opportunities for displaced coal workers, the University of Cincinnati Clermont has received a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission that will provide much needed funds to develop programs that will help workers displaced from coal industries.
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is an economic development partnership agency. It is made up of 13 state governments and it focuses on 420 counties across the Appalachian region, including parts of Ohio impacted by the move away from coal-burning power facilities. Glenda Neff of UC Clermont explains that this grant “is especially helpful because it covers multiple counties, Clermont, Adams, and Brown Counties, and thereby makes it possible to create a plan that provides the most benefits.” Rather than focusing on specific communities, the ARC grant and the studies provided by UC Clermont will lead to economic growth and job growth across counties that are impacted by the loss of coal-related jobs.
The needs of some counties are greater than in others. Neff told me that Adams County, for example, is listed as “distressed,” while Clermont County is doing well. The way the ARC grant and the studies it enables will work is it allows “us to take the successes in Clermont County and determine how to take this to places like Adams County… The grant is specifically geared toward planning, and this allows counties to examine needs and strategies for the region rather than in isolated communities.”
The grant from ARC is called the POWER grant. It stands for Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization Initiative. The purpose of the grant to promote studies and efforts that will allow for the use of federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries. What lies behind this is the recognition that a move away from coal-burning power, though important to combat greenhouse gases and global climate change, leads to economic upheavals and substantial job losses in communities all over the Appalachian region. People in the Appalachian counties around greater Cincinnati are directly impacted by these kinds of economic shifts, and these populations are the ones who will be best served by the ARC grant.
On a practical level, Glenda Neff told me that their “research begins with community conversations and employer surveys. These things get pulled into a regional plan.” UC Clermont will work with what are called “opportunity zones.” These are areas that have the resources and infrastructure to set the ground for development projects. Again, Neff explains: “By working with opportunity zones within areas that are impacted by coal industry job losses, individual communities can qualify for further state and local money for job creation.” The idea is that the ARC grant combined with local input can all be combined into a comprehensive plan that will transition displaced workers into employment that sustains families and the communities. UC Clermont is leading the project that will make this happen.
Glenda Neff pointed to the development already underway in the eastern part of Clermont County. A Purina plant is under construction that will provide jobs for the entire area. The POWER grant and the work of UC Clermont will extend this type of development across the three counties so that employment opportunities are distributed across the region. On the most practical levels, this would mean people in Adams County would not need to commute all the way to Clermont County, or the urban core for that matter, to find meaningful employment.
Global and national changes such as the transition from coal energy to cleaner forms of energy bring difficult consequences to communities all over the country. Our urban Appalachian communities and our neighboring rural Appalachian communities are often especially impacted by such shifts. As community partners, the University of Cincinnati Clermont and the Appalachian Regional Commission are working to ameliorate the difficulties by providing opportunities for people in our region. A link that provides more information on the ARC POWER Grant Planning Award through the University of Cincinnati Clermont in below.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.