Through AEP’s Economic & Business Development (E&BD) efforts, we are building stronger partnerships with our local communities to help revitalize some of the hardest hit communities from the changes in the coal industry. Three states in the heart of Appalachia have been particularly impacted. Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia experienced job losses, the loss of tax revenue to support local public services, and the loss of indirect economic benefits of having a locally employed workforce. In response, AEP’s E&BD team established targeted efforts to revitalize those communities by attracting new industry and jobs, and empowering them to take the lead in rebuilding their communities.
In addition to serving customers and maintaining operations in Appalachia, we live and work in these communities. It is important to us that these communities recover and thrive because their strength and growth is also good for AEP.
In 2017, AEP and our regional economic development partners launched Appalachian Sky – an initiative that began in AEP’s Kentucky territory and grew to encompass AEP territories in the Tri-State region (eastern Kentucky, southwestern Ohio, and western West Virginia). The initiative’s purpose is to aggressively attract aerospace and aviation industry to AEP’s central Appalachia service region. Appalachian Sky was inspired by the intelligence and work ethic of the coal mining and steel working communities as captured in the movie “October Sky” and chronicled in the memoir “Rocket Boys” by West Virginia native Homer Hickam.
The genius of Appalachian Sky was sparked by the completion of a comprehensive regional workforce analysis in AEP’s Kentucky territory. The research showed that coal miners, many of whom have lost their jobs due to recent mine closings, have the skills that aerospace and advanced manufacturing companies need. The study, which was funded in part with Kentucky Power economic development grants, concluded that the region had eight times the national average of skilled metal workers - recognizing the potential of the aerospace industry to diversify the central Appalachian economy.
AEP then commissioned a leading aerospace consultancy to determine the viability of aerospace in Appalachia’s coal and steel country. The consultancy certified 14 counties as AeroReady in the Tri-State region furthering the belief that aerospace can thrive in Appalachia. Five additional counties are working toward certification in 2018. We have also focused on preparing sites in the region through our AEP Quality Sites Program and other site development work.
In the short time of the Appalachian Sky initiative, the region has already seen an uptick in prospective companies considering or committing to expansion in Central Appalachia. For example, Kentucky Power has been able to actively market the region with state and local partners, resulting in six key manufacturing project announcements for the region in 2017:
- Braidy Industries, aluminum rolling mill, 550 jobs (plus 1,000 construction jobs), Ashland, KY;
- Silver Liner, a tanker truck manufacturer, 300 jobs, Pikeville, KY;
- AppHarvest, an agricultural grow operation, 140 jobs, Pikeville, KY;
- EnerBlu, advanced battery manufacturer, 875 jobs, Pikeville, KY;
- Wright-Mix Materials, liquid chemicals, grouts, cement products, 130 jobs, Greenup County; and,
- Thoroughbred Aviation, aircraft maintenance, avionics, painting, 15 jobs, Martin County.
Beyond the successes in Kentucky Power, we continue to encourage and support the development of the Tri-State aerospace initiative. Visit Appalachian Sky for more information.