Prove your humanity

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Small to mid-sized manufacturing companies throughout the region will be able to apply for technical and capital assistance to help transition into more environmentally sustainable businesses.

Catalyst Connection was awarded $10 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission this week to that end. The 36-year-old Pittsburgh-based nonprofit’s mission is to support manufacturing companies throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. The grant will extend that support to West Virginia, New York, Maryland, and Ohio.

Executive director Petra Mitchell has been with Catalyst Connection for almost 30 years. She says a lot has changed over the decades and that a culture exists today in the manufacturing sector that values environmental sustainability.

Mitchell reports 10,000 manufacturing companies exist in the target 156-county footprint; she anticipates helping 1,000 of them optimize operations during the next four years with mini-grants up to $10,000.

“We really want companies to think about how they can reduce their own waste, reduce their own energy, and reduce any emissions,” she said. “Where are those clean energy and sustainability products, and how can they be utilized and implemented, leveraged so that we can say, ‘Hey, not only are manufacturers part of the future supply chains, but they’re part of the future solution in multiple ways.’”

Manufacturing in the region

While manufacturing in Pittsburgh has declined from its heyday in the 1950s, the Bureau of Labor estimates some 85,000 people are still employed in the sector. Metal fabrication and machining, especially, are supporting energy, transportation and defense sectors, and Mitchell anticipates more federal infrastructure dollars could be captured locally to boost the northern Appalachian economy.

“The federal government is going to invest over $4 trillion in new infrastructure in our country,” Mitchell said, referring to the American Rescue Plan, the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is the source of Catalyst Connection’s $10 million ARC grant.

Catalyst’s award is the latest Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies grant issued through the ARC. Commission co-chair Gayle Manchin says the funds are meant to encourage collaboration across the Appalachian region.

“When we truly think about our Appalachian region and the opportunities that we have and will continue to have, it’s really going to be important that we know each other across the states and that we’re comfortable working with each other,” Manchin said. “And that it’s not, ‘I have to compete against you to get money, [rather,] I can compete with you, and we both benefit.’”

To date, $46.8 million in ARISE grants have been awarded, and $227 million are still available.