The celebration of Labor Day on the first Monday in September is an occasion to celebrate American workers and all they have done to create the greatest economic power in history.
In our region, this upcoming Labor Day would be a good time to note a recent spate of good news for workers, job growth, and opportunity.
Companies announcing that they are newly locating to Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District or growing in the area are events to celebrate, not only for the companies and the workers who will gain jobs but for the surrounding communities which will gain more investment, nearby shops and restaurants which will enjoy more customers, and local governments which will collect more tax revenue to pay for services.
On August 23, Coronado Global Resources announced plans to expand in Buchanan and Tazewell Counties, a $169.1 million investment that will create 181 new jobs. Coronado’s announcement comes as demand surges for the metallurgical coal it produces.
Metallurgical coal is an essential product for the steelmaking process. Central Appalachia happens to be home to some of the world’s major metallurgical coal reserves, so when steel is in demand, our region can benefit.
Coronado’s announcement was a welcome one for the miners who will earn wages well above the median in the region. It was also a reminder that, with its various uses, coal is not going away.
In Big Stone Gap on August 25, I was present for an announcement by the Chesterfield County-based firm Paymerang that it was locating a hub in the town and would create 50 new jobs in the area.
This opportunity meets Southwest Virginia’s enduring assets – a low cost of living and a high quality of life – with recent technological developments. Improved internet access gives more employees the ability to work from home. We hope that will lead to more people calling Southwest Virginia home or staying in our region. They can enjoy expanded possibilities for employment without sacrificing proximity to our great outdoor recreational activities or paying the exorbitant rent or house prices of urban areas.
I hope Paymerang’s announcement is only among the earliest of its kind to offer distributed work positions or other similar opportunities in our area.
Job growth is not only about increasing the number of positions now. It is about improving workforce skills so that more jobseekers are matched with quality jobs.
This is the purpose of a new program at the Tazewell County Career and Technical Center, with a ribbon cutting for it on August 30. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities awarded a $1.4 million grant to the center to pay for modern computerized welding equipment and staff and instruction on how to use it. Skilled welders are highly sought-after, and training them in our area will benefit both those who take up the trade and those looking to employ them.
Virginia’s Ninth District has plenty of assets to attract workers, including affordable living and access to great natural and recreational locations. We can create more opportunities by renewing or redeveloping parts of the old economy. This is the purpose of the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) program, formerly the AML Pilot Project. When the federal program was first created, Virginia was not eligible, so I successfully added an amendment to include Virginia.
AMLER can be applied to a variety of uses to reclaim old mine lands, including preparation for industrial sites. Russell County’s Project Reclaim is one such location, a 67-acre industrial site which received AMLER support to remove old mining structures and reclaim the land. Prepared industrial sites can attract new enterprises that will hire workers and become important economic drivers.
The hardworking people of our part of Virginia are being rewarded with new opportunities for well-paying jobs. We can all celebrate this progress.