Photo courtesy of Lawrence Brothers Inc. Their new laser is being used to manufacture battery components.
An innovative economic development proposal heads to the GO Virginia State Board for final approval at its March meeting after the Region One Council approved the proposal last week. The implementation grant proposal focuses on creating jobs and attracting investments in the battery and electrification manufacturing sectors in Southwest Virginia.
Adam Wells, Appalachian Voices: 804 240 4372, [email protected]
Vivek Shinde Patil, Ascent Virginia: 510 387 3857, [email protected]
Jonathan Belcher, Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority: 276 889 0381, [email protected]
The Energy Storage and Electrification Manufacturing Jobs Project is led by Appalachian Voices, Ascent Virginia and the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA), with additional partnership from Brightview Energy Consulting, GENEDGE and the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission. The project emphasizes delivering data-based technical assistance, along with battery and electrification market diversification opportunities, to the region’s existing manufacturers including AMR PEMCO, Lawrence Brothers Inc., West River Conveyors & Machinery Co., and Simmons Equipment Company.
The project team envisions that in the near future, batteries that are powering electric cars in Asia, storing energy generated off wind farms in Europe, or even lighting homes in California, would be made right here in Southwest Virginia.
“VCEDA is very excited to be a part of the Energy Storage and Electrification Manufacturing Jobs Project,” said VCEDA Executive Director Jonathan Belcher. “This initiative, which began two years ago as a result of collaborative discussions between Ascent Virginia, Appalachian Voices, and VCEDA, is designed to position Southwest Virginia’s e-Region as a leader in advanced battery manufacturing and related components, and includes not only a strategy for attracting companies in this industry sector to the region, but also an organized plan to help interested companies already in our region to diversify their offerings to products and services in this field. The end result is calculated to not only help diversify the region’s economy, but also to add jobs.”
Based on analysis developed for the application, the project could create as many as 206 direct jobs for the region, while attracting millions of dollars in investments.
“The project team has spent the last two years in a due diligence process to develop the concept approved today by Region One Council,” said Vivek Shinde Patil, PhD, co-founder of Ascent Virginia and project co-lead. “That process has included discussions with global energy storage, utility and battery company executives, which yielded valuable insights into the possibility of creating an energy storage and electrification production cluster in southwest Virginia.”
“This project connects directly to the ongoing efforts of The Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia’s to support solar-related jobs in the region,” said project lead Adam Wells, Regional Director of Community and Economic Development at Appalachian Voices. “Since the workgroup was established, we have had the goal to support manufacturing jobs connected to renewable energy sectors. Thanks to broad support and engagement from stakeholders across the region, we have identified the strategies outlined in this project as the best way to leverage our regions assets and gain a share of the rapidly expanding electrification market.”
As a part of the first phase of the project, funded by GO Virginia, The Solar Foundation completed a regional market analysis that identified pursuit of the battery and energy storage supply chain manufacturing (batteries, casings, electrical components, materials and accessories) as a strong opportunity to create jobs and attract investment to GO Virginia Region One.
“Lawrence Brothers is proud to partner with the project team, and supports the broader vision of regional economic growth that diversification such as this often brings,” said Melanie Lawrence-Protti, President of Lawrence Brothers and one of the region’s visionary manufacturers. “We are excited to utilize our state-of-the-art laser technology to manufacture components for the project. We all win through collaborative efforts that promote sustainable economic growth and that potential of collaboration in Southwest Virginia is now stronger than ever.”
“Battery and electrification market sectors are poised to see strong growth as industry and government accelerate investments in low and no carbon energy platforms,” said project team member, Dr. Anthony Artuso, Managing Partner at Brightview Energy and Executive Scholar at the University of Virginia. “This project will develop market entry strategies based on the strengths and capabilities of the four companies and targeted to specific market segments in the energy storage and electrification sectors. The goal is to enable Southwest Virginia to be able to support and benefit from some of that global growth.”
The project is laser focused on providing resources to anchor employers in the region that are seeking to diversify their business strategies in the face of shifting energy markets. The scope of work is geared to deliver services as rapidly as possible to expand employment and attract new investment.
“Southwest Virginia has a very strong manufacturing ecosystem,” said Sam Wolford from The GENEDGE Alliance, who has worked with each of the four companies previously. “GENEDGE is excited to work with these regional employment anchors to help implement the manufacturing and marketing strategies identified through this project to help these companies grow their business and create new employment opportunities for residents of the region.”
In parallel to the work with local manufacturers, Appalachian Voices and Ascent Virginia will conduct a “Voice of Industry” outreach and lead-generation campaign. This involves engagement with national and global battery, electrification and electric vehicle companies in an effort to generate business partnerships and pivot leads for the four local companies. Additionally, this will serve to recruit interested external companies to the region and will rely heavily on the marketing and business attraction experience of Jonathan Belcher and his team at VCEDA.
“We strongly support efforts such as this to encourage existing companies to expand and diversify their businesses and to create opportunities for new business development in this industry sector,” added Jim Baldwin of the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission, a key partner on this project.
In addition to the 2019 Capacity Building grant awarded by GO Virginia that funded the regional market analysis, the project was also recently informed of the provisional approval of a grant of $160,000 by the Thompson Charitable Foundation (TCF), which is serving as a match for the $486,366 implementation request from GO Virginia Region One. The TCF grant will support general economic diversification efforts including a community SWOT analysis supportive of the more specific electrification initiative. TCF funds workforce development and economic diversification in Buchanan and Tazewell counties, the location of the four companies involved with this effort. The Thompson Charitable Foundation will make a final determination of support pending the approval of the GO Virginia State Board.
Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.
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