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Appalachian Power Fuels Economic Development, Workforce Innovation

Appalachian Power helps drive growth in Advantage Valley through workforce development initiatives.

By Livability on November 15, 2021

Appalachian Power
Courtesy of Appalachian Power

With more than 2,000 employees across 23 counties in West Virginia, Appalachian Power is an economic force in its own right, but the utility is also a power player when it comes to driving regional growth. 

Part of the 11-state American Electric Power (AEP) system, the public utility has the tools to work with companies from innovative startups to large multinational corporations. 

Appalachian Power’s expertise extends beyond comprehensive energy advisory services to include site location, workforce development and actionable data insights. 

Powerful Partnerships 

“Economic development is a team sport,” says Heather Vanater, manager of economic and business development for Appalachian Power. “We have a lot of experience and resources — that’s why we make such a good partner for our communities,” she adds of working with state and local entities. 

The emerging aerospace industry showcases those partnerships at work. Alongside regional stakeholders, Appalachian Power led the process for area counties to be nationally certified as “AEROready.” 

Working with parent company American Electric Power, Appalachian Power helped secure an AEP Foundation gift of $750,000 to Marshall University to build southern West Virginia’s first collegiate flight school. 

The utility also has been instrumental in assisting with additional funding and agreements to ensure the necessary supports — from a trained workforce to complementary development projects — are in place to help Advantage Valley’s aerospace technology sector take flight. 

Whether helping launch a new industry or a new small business, Vanater says Appalachian Power works with customers every step of the way. 

“Our relationship doesn’t end when the lights come on,” she notes. “You have a partner for life.” 

Workforce WIN 

In collaboration with the Robert C. Byrd Institute and the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Appalachian Power provided funding and expertise for the recently completed West Virginia WIN — Workforce Innovation Now — research project. Soliciting input from 2,500 stakeholders, WIN provides a detailed picture of the Advantage Valley workforce. 

“It showcases the transferable skill sets workers in our region have,” says Vanater. “For example, displaced coal miners often have experience in metalworking, one of the top skill sets needed for the aerospace industry.” 

She also noted that the analysis revealed a strong desire to work, with job seekers indicating a willingness to drive over an hour one way for a good job. 

The WIN data provides important insights for a range of business verticals, from advanced manufacturing and information technology to logistics and value-added agriculture. 

A Bright Future 

While Appalachian Power’s top priority is ensuring the region has a stable energy source, Vanater says economic development is a central part of the company’s community-based mission, as well. 

Helping bring new companies and industries to Advantage Valley expands the local tax base and opens new job opportunities for individuals. It can also result in increased electrical demand, which spreads infrastructure costs out among a larger pool, she explains. 

“Economic development is for everybody, whether everybody realizes it or not,” Vanater says. “It really is the classic win-win.” 

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