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Grants a boon to our region

Good news has come to the Steubenville area during the last 10 days or so in the form of a couple of grants issued through the Appalachian Regional Commission.

On Sept. 15, officials learned the city would be receiving $250,000 from the commission that will go toward the long-anticipated West End water project. And on Sept. 16, Urban Mission Ministries learned it would receive a $980,374 grant from the commission which will allow it to launch its Fresh Start program.

Both announcements are good for the community.

The water project will encompass the replacement of lines and construction of a new water tower, which will provide improved service to the 2,944 households and 127 businesses that are part of the West End Service District. That includes Eastern Gateway Community College, Trinity Medical Center West and the area around the Fort Steuben Mall.

The award comes at a good time for the city and will be added to $1 million from the cost-sharing program operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and a $1.6 million loan from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, as well as a pending request for $5 million from the Ohio Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Grant Program.

Grant dollars are critical for the project, city officials said, because they will lower the amount of money residents will have to invest in the work, which could lead to smaller increases in sewer and water bills.

For the Urban Mission, the nearly $1 million grant that came through ARC’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization program will jump start Fresh Start, a comprehensive approach to workforce development that includes life skills and empowerment classes, educational opportunities and on-site vocational training.

Designed to help individuals who are under-employed or in recovery, Fresh Start will target six counties in Ohio and two counties in West Virginia.

Part of the grant money will be used to renovate the portion of the Seventh Street Plaza that at various times during the last 60 years or so has served as home to Kroger and Sav-A-Lot grocery stores. Initial renovations call for the creation of two community classrooms, an industrial-sized training kitchen, a pay-what-you-can restaurant, a day care, a fresh food market and space for business incubation.

Additional renovations will occur as future funding is available. In all, it will assist in the renovation of 28,500 square feet of vacant space, create three new businesses and 10 new jobs, retain 23 jobs and assist 20 businesses and 350 trainees.

That will be in addition to money generated by businesses that rent space in the remainder of the plaza, which sits between Washington and North streets and was purchased by the Urban Mission two years ago.

Fresh Start, according to the Rev. Ashley Steele, executive director of the Urban Mission, focuses on workforce development. Her organization will serve as a bridge between participants, community colleges, businesses, agencies and the public, addressing specific employment needs, utilizing a holistic, integrated approach, she explained.

POWER grants originate from a congressionally funded initiative that directs 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 due to the changing economics of energy production. They distributed by the commission, which is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian region.

Its mission is to innovate, partner and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.

Ensuring residents have access to a modern, efficient and reliable water supply and providing the training and opportunities needed to learn viable job skills certainly fit perfectly with those goals. These projects represent federal money that is well spent, and those dollars will have an immeasurable impact on the lives of those who live across our entire region.

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