West Virginians work hard and care deeply about our communities. Like any American we just expect to be paid fairly for the hours we put in and to be protected and respected on the job. It’s called The American Dream.
For too long multi-national corporations have held wages down and cut corners that put our working people at risk. With federal support, we can create good jobs in 21st century industries for all Appalachians — of every color, creed and background. Right now, multi-national business interests and the politicians they support are trying to undermine the bills in Congress that are urgently needed to realize a new shared prosperity in our state and our nation.
Every West Virginian deserves a good-paying job that will provide our children with opportunities to put down roots and raise a family. West Virginians also deserve to work for employers who measure their bottom line not just by the profits realized but by the prosperity of the communities and employees who enable the companies to thrive.
The opportunity is clear. As the world markets demand more socially and environmentally conscious products, Appalachia is well-positioned to rise to the occasion. With public and private funding to retool existing facilities, this region could be a hub for creating the responsible products of the future, such as alternatives to single-use plastic, battery cells for energy storage and electric vehicles.
At the moment, manufacturers are discarding heat generated from electricity through pressure release vents or cooling towers while purchasing fuel to create heat to meet their heating and cooling needs. If we could transfer heat lost from the electric power sector to our manufacturers and others, we could reduce enormous amounts of waste in electrical production, while also saving manufacturers money used to fuel heating and cooling. This technology is known as combined heat and power (CHP) technology.
The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented; this technology is already being used in different parts of the country. Shuttered coal plants and former steel facilities can be put to use, as we’ve seen in the Green Gold Initiative in Buffalo, New York, and Ford Devens in Devens, Massachusetts. These sites already have rail and water transportation infrastructure and can be repurposed into eco-industrial parks, where one company’s waste becomes another’s raw materials and services can be shared.
Coal plant boilers and turbines at existing sites can be repurposed for CHP purposes, providing a more efficient way to meet the heat and power needs of manufacturers. Furthermore, investments in CHP create jobs, employing workers to operate and maintain machinery and equipment.
To help manufacturers modernize their workforce, the federal government can require labor-community-management partnerships and union apprenticeships to create more accessible opportunities for Black, Indigenous and other working people of color.
West Virginia --l and all of Appalachia — can be the epicenter of a new, more sustainable and inclusive economy. With the right federal infrastructure investments, th e region could become a 21st century manufacturing powerhouse that is better for families, our children and future generations. It’s time to call on our federal leaders to put our people to work.