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Redevelopment Authority to receive CDS funding

Bruce Justice (Mingo Messenger) Jan 27, 2023

The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority has been earmarked for nearly $3 million in Congressional Direct Spending money that officials are hoping will help jumpstart a specific county project for which the agency previously failed to receive funding.

“I’m happy to announce that with the passing of the FY 2023 Omnibus Bill and gaining the president’s signature, our $2.9 million Congressional Direct Spending application was approved,” Executive Director Leasha Johnson said during the MCRA’s Jan. 19 meeting.

Johnson said the money will be used to create the Mingo County Advanced Air Mobility Education Program, which she said would not only benefit Mingo County but ultimately also all of southern West Virginia.

She said the funding will initially come through the Commerce, Justice and Science Sub-Committee and then as a direct award through the NASA Security and Support Program, which she noted will not require local match funding.

Johnson said the purpose of the educational program is to further the development and growth of advanced air mobility in the county by providing educational opportunities for students ranging from kindergarten to fourth-year college undergraduates.

She said the MCRA had previously worked with Vertx (a private sector consulting firm) and other partners during the previous Build Back Better application process in a concerted attempt to launch the development of the industry in Mingo County.

Advanced air mobility, she explained, essentially entails the operation of drones and eVTOLs (electric takeoff and landing vehicles).

“Despite the application not being funded, which was a much larger application with a lot more project deliverables than just this education program, we didn’t want to allow the momentum and the work we had done to just sit idle,” Johnson said.

Although she concedes the fact that the educational program will not immediately bring in industry investment to Mingo County, Johnson said it would allow for the development of a “workforce pipeline” that eventually could bring about this outside investment.

“The great thing about this program is any activities we undertake in the future will help facilitate the attraction of these companies to Mingo County,” she said. “Another is, with limited educational opportunities for students to learn much if anything about this industry, the program will provide them with that chance.”

Johnson said aside from Mingo County Schools, the program would also entail partnering with Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College and Marshall University Flight School to develop higher education curricula that would further the AAM industry in Mingo County.

“We proposed in the program application to utilize the funds for three purposes,” she said. “One would be the procurement of a low cost mobile airspace monitoring system, which will be utilized for the hands-on training to be able to monitor and track the drones when they are beyond visual line of sight; the second component will the development of curricula on different levels with different topics of study; and the third will be the development of programs that encourage advanced air mobility entrepreneurism, such as drone filming and drone air crop competitions.”

While these kinds of curricula, as well as the development of drone technology in general, are becoming commonplace in other regions, Johnson said they have not to date caught on as much in the eastern part of the country.

“We’re really excited about having the opportunity to introduce advanced air mobility in Mingo County, and this will help get that started,” she said. “In the United States, we have always been a leader in the aerospace sector, and the Vertx people think if we’re to continue that role we really have to embrace the advanced mobility sector.”

Johnson credited Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito with getting the funding earmarked for the project.

“Both serve on the Appropriations Committee and this was one of the projects they both recommended to be funded,” Johnson said. “So, I’m really grateful to them that we were able to secure this funding.”

In other action taken during the Jan. 19 meeting, the board:

• Approved JP Tech’s proposed expansion at the Harless Industrial Park;

• Approved the engineering contract with E L Robinson to design and oversee the construction of the sewage treatment plant at the Air Transportation Park;

• Approved the Albert Watts Cattle License Agreement, which will extend Watts’ current month-to-month lease to a five-year lease agreement; and,

• Approved the Local Economic Grant Contract Resolution, which will allow for the drawdown of the MCRA’s $22,000 LED award.


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