A smattering of custom springs and wire forms. Photo courtesy of Ace Wire Spring & Form Co.

As more federal dollars are put toward green energy initiatives and sustainability, Appalachian communities — which traditionally have been economically sustained by coal mines and manufacturing plants — find themselves in increasing financial duress, says Petra Mitchell, president and CEO of Catalyst Connection.

To strengthen economic growth in Appalachia and maintain sustainable development, the Appalachian Regional Commission awarded Catalyst Connection a $10 million Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies (ARISE) grant to help about 1,000 small to medium manufacturers expand or enter into clean energy initiatives.

Catalyst Connection is a not-for-profit organization that provides consulting and training services to small manufacturers in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Funded by the federal Infrastructure Investment in Jobs Act, Catalyst’s grant program spans Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.

“Ultimately, the goal is new business,” Mitchell says. “We want to drive new demand, we want manufacturers to get more than their fair share of the supply chain opportunities as a result of these federal investments. When we drive that demand — when we drive new business — that’s what creates investments, that’s what drives innovation and technology, and that’s what’s going to drive workforce development and economic prosperity.”

Catalyst will dole out funding to manufacturers across the five states to assist with projects that will make them more competitive in a green-energy-focused American market, or “greener, cleaner and leaner,” according to Mitchell.

Manufacturers can apply to Catalyst with a proposed project and, if approved, will have spending on the project matched up to $10,000 by the grant funds.

While Catalyst Connection is still working through some administrative and outreach details, the project has already begun in a “start-up mode,” Mitchell says.

Petra Mitchell. Photo courtesy of Catalyst Connection.

McKees Rocks’ Ace Wire Spring and Form Company has already submitted paperwork for a project to make its power grid more energy efficient. Owner Linda Froehlich was a member of Catalyst’s Board of Directors in 2015 and has continued developing personal and professional relationships with members of the organization ever since.

“Jim Marsilio is the [Business Development Advisor], and he would always alert me on different programs that were coming up that he thought we should get involved with, and to this day I do that,” Froehlich says.

Ace Wire Spring’s project will update and optimize its power grid, leading to increased electric and production efficiency.

The project was spurred by the delivery of a new coiling machine. When they set it up, Froehlich found herself in a power predicament.

“I could only run the machine — I couldn’t run the rest of the plant,” Froehlich says.

Her plant did not have enough voltage coming in — something she and her late husband had never considered when they moved into their facility in 1986. As Ace Wire Spring’s upgrades continue, the costs keep adding up. Froehlich says the project in its entirety will run the company about $150,000.

Applicants can only receive the $10,000 once, “but it’s a lot better than nothing,” Froehlich says.

While the situation is not ideal, Froelich is grateful for the support Catalyst provides manufacturers.

“I like working with them because they know what’s happening, what grants are available, what programs they have to make us stronger,” Froelich says.

“It’s been an education and it’s not over yet. All I know is at the end, the electric bill better not be too high.”

Mitchell says the ARISE grant program will be in full swing by January.

“In the meantime, we’re talking a lot to companies, we’re getting a lot of inquiries,” Mitchell says. “So it gives us a good opportunity to start talking to companies, get their ideas, and have them start lining up projects.”

Roman wants to hear the stories created in Pittsburgh. When not reporting, he plays difficult video games that make him upset and attempts to make delicious meals out of mismatched leftovers.