CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Co-Chair Tim Thomas made several stops together in West Virginia on Tuesday focusing on regional economic development.
Capito and Thomas led roundtable discussions and tours in Beckley, Charleston and Huntington that steered towards the senator’s work to reauthorize the ARC and draw attention to West Virginia priorities.
“We get good return on our investment in West Virginia for our projects,” Thomas told the media in Charleston. “We are very pleased with the work that we have seen, the results so far. We look forward to working further with West Virginia.”
The discussions in Charleston focused on how ARC is critical to expanding broadband, training and developing workplace and worksite development in the state, and that last piece of Corridor H how they are going to get that funded. State Secretary of Transportation Byrd White was in on the roundtable discussions and Capito noted the state is building in fiber with new roads projects.
A comprehensive bill that is being called the largest highway legislation in history and sponsored by Capito featured three measures apart of boosting transportation infrastructure and encourage economic development in Appalachia.
The Appalachian Regional Commission Reauthorization Act, the Advancing Infrastructure Development (AID) in Appalachia Act, and the Appalachian Regional Energy Hub Initiative Act are all inside America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, which was voted on and passed unanimously in the committee stage by the Environment and Public Works Committee in late July.
“I think the legislation would receive strong support from a wide array of states that touch upon Appalachia and would probably have bipartisan support, at least that’s my hope,” Thomas said.
According to a release by Capito’s office, the measures from the bills will devote $20 million in ARC funding for broadband deployment, $5 million to assist new in the development of the Appalachian storage and trading hub, and make more funds available for the completion of segments of the Appalachian Development Highway System like Corridor H.
Capito made it clear on Tuesday that broadband issues in the state need to continue to be worked on.
“I think we still have a broadband gap,” she told the media. “We have worked with the ARC to try and fill it in with unserved and underserved areas. We have problems with mapping, we have problems with expensive delivery of service.”
Thomas said the ARC will continue to support the state towards broadband deployment.
“That is the key to economic growth in this day in age. If you do not have the connectivity you are not a player,” he said.
Tuesday morning in Beckley the pair toured the HIVE network, an entrepreneurial support network serving locations in that city along with Summersville, Lewisburg, and Hinton.
In Huntington on Tuesday afternoon, Capito and Thomas met with West Virginia Assistant State Superintendent of Schools Kathy D’Antoni to tour CentralApp, a company founded and led by West Virginia entrepreneurs and partnering with education leaders that provides workforce training for technology careers.
Capito said both of those stops are critical as the ARC can help start-up businesses and students out of school.
“A lot of times the big challenge for an entrepreneur in a start-up is seat capital, how do you get going and how do you formulate a business plan,” she said. “That’s where ARC dollars can come in.”