A collaborative team of researchers at West Virginia University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has received a grant of nearly $350,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Economic Development Administration to study the consequences of falling coal demand on the Appalachian region.

Researchers from WVU’s College of Business and Economics and the Regional Research Institute are part of the team that will study the breadth and depth of the declining coal industry on Appalachia.

John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU, said, “Currently data exist that simply report the losses in direct coal employment across Appalachia. However, there is no existing research that also documents the full economic effect of coal’s decline on communities across Appalachia given a community’s broader economic context, and when considering losses from businesses that are linked to coal through supplier connections and impacts associated with losses at coal-fired power plants. Our research will be the first to establish the complete economic impact of coal’s decline across Appalachian communities and, as such, our work will be critical in properly directing any economic redevelopment efforts in coming years in light of coal’s decline.”

The grant project, which should be completed in June 2017, was one of 42 awards totaling nearly $28 million from the Obama administration’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative to stimulate economic growth and opportunity in communities that have historically relied on the coal industry. The WVU/UT research project will also look at trends in coal production, transportation and coal-based power generation to determine how the coal industry downturn might impact freight rail, barge and truck transportation. Rounding out the project will be an analysis of the impacts of the coal industry decline on human capital resources and development in Appalachia.

Randall Jackson, director of the Regional Research Institute at WVU and project principle investigator, said the project is perfectly aligned with the land-grant mission of both universities.

“Our group includes individuals who have devoted their careers to understanding industrial economic systems, energy policy, transportation and human capital,” he said. “Our research expertise is perfectly matched to project goals.”

The UT researchers are from the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, the Center for Transportation Research in the Tickle College of Engineering, and the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, in the Haslam College of Business.

This year, the POWER initiative has invested $66.3 million in 71 projects to diversify local and regional economies by retraining coal industry workers in 15 states for jobs in agriculture, technology, entrepreneurship, manufacturing and other industries.

“These federal investments will enable Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities to continue their work developing innovative paths towards economic resilience,” said Earl F. Gohl, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. “They will directly support the region’s emerging industries, which are making Appalachia America’s next great investment opportunity.”

“We are very pleased to engage in this research,” Jackson said, “which gives us the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the coal industry ecosystem and, at the same time, contribute to our own Appalachian region as we adjust and adapt to new and sometimes painful economic realities.”