ARC Power Mini-Grant Program applicant, Conspec Controls. Image courtesy of Catalyst Connection.

While coal workers wait to see if President Trump’s support will save their jobs, Catalyst Connection has a new program to boost local manufacturers affected by the struggling industry.

Catalyst Connection wants small- to medium-sized manufacturers impacted by downturns in the coal and energy sectors to apply for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Power Mini-Grant Program. The grants — which total up to $10,000 — would allow applicants to pursue projects meant to help them become more competitive by adopting new technologies, becoming more efficient and diversifying their markets.

“We’re looking for companies that want to grow and invest in their future,” says Tom Reed, director of communications and community outreach for Catalyst Connection.

The grants are available to manufacturers located in coal-dependent Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, including Armstrong, Beaver and Butler, that produce products related to the industry’s supply chain. The funding would cover up to 30 percent of a project, with the manufacturer covering the remaining 70 percent.

The program comes at a time when promises from the Trump administration to “bring back coal” conflict with the evidence of the industry’s steady decline. Even so, developments such as Trump’s slashing of mining regulations and plans for new mines in Somerset County, have given the region’s coal workers hope for the future.

But as Reed points out, the damage that has already been done has made manufacturers in the region hesitant to bank on coal’s return.

“It’s always difficult to predict the future,” says Reed. “The fact is we have seen a decline in coal production.”

He adds that some of the companies that Catalyst Connection works with “rely very heavily on their clients in the coal industry” and that the ARC program was created to help them bounce back from the decline and “be more nimble.”

So far, Catalyst Connection has recruited 14 companies for the program and has room for 11 more.

Conspec Controls, a Washington County company that manufactures gas sensors, detectors and systems designed to protect energy workers, joined the program when its revenue suffered from the reduction in coal mining. The company worked with Catalyst Connection to increase their online presence and create a marketing plan that would help them expand into new territory.

“Our new marketing plan and website will help us to gain exposure in the highly competitive gas detector industry through targeted advertisements, focused lead generation and search engine optimization,” says Benjamin Cope, inside sales and sales support manager at Conspec Controls.

By encouraging companies to take a new, more innovative approach, Reed believes the program will prove an asset not only to the health of the local manufacturing industry but to the region as a whole.

“This is a great benefit to the region because it helps these companies to remain strong and ideally, as they grow, they will maintain their current employees and potentially will hire new employees,” says Reed. “This is allowing our local manufacturing companies to be more competitive on the world stage.”

The deadline to apply for the ARC Power Grant program is July 31, 2018.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.