By: Kelly Poe, al.com
Alabama coal miners have recently faced mine closures, job losses and benefits reductions, and two recently awarded federal grants aim to ease some of the problems the industry decline has caused.
The federal government’s Appalachian Regional Commission has awarded two groups in Alabama grants to help the industry figure out what’s next.
Southern Research in Birmingham received a $60,202 grant to develop a strategic plan to increase entrepreneurship in Alabama’s counties that have been most impacted by the decline of coal.
“We’re going to have an energy industry in the state. What’s it going to be for the next 100 years?” Southern Research’s Director of Energy and Environment Corey Tyree said. “For the last 100 years, coal was a big part of that. I don’t see an economic driver that’s going to bring that back.”
Tyree estimates that since the industry’s peak in 1990, Alabama has lost 21,000 jobs and $1.8 billion in the coal sector throughout the entire supply chain. Tyree used Energy Information Administration data to develop that estimate.
“Coal is an important part of our historical economic base,” Tyree said. “This region, like others in the Appalachian region, was disproportionately affected by the downturn in the industry.”
The plan will focus on how to use existing research and development assets in the energy and agricultural sectors to encourage small business growth.
The Shoals Entrepreneurial Center in Florence was awarded a $997,150 grant for the “Shoals Shift” project. The funds will fund entrepreneurial programs to increase profitability of area companies and startups through more efficient use of broadband technologies.
ARC estimates the project will create or retain 110 jobs, start 20 new business, and leverage $10 million in private estimates.
Last year alone was a devastating blow to the Alabama coal industry, following a long history of decline in the coal industry. Walter Energy eliminated hundreds of jobs last year as it navigated bankruptcy, but it was far from alone. North American Coal Corporation closed its Jasper operation, and Cliffs Natural Resources laid off more than 200 workers.
Alabama is one of nine Appalachian states to receive grants totaling nearly $39 million that are expected to create more than 3,000 jobs. The other eight states to receive grants are Texas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The Appalachian Regional Commission estimates that 23,000 Appalachian coal jobs have been lost between 2011 and 2015.
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