By Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

As promised, we’re picking up in this new year where we left off last year. In my December article, I shared the exciting news of a federal funding opportunity that NWIRC, along with the other 6 Industrial Resource Centers (IRC) and the Commonwealth of PA, was awarded with a mini-grant component to help small and mid-sized manufacturers (SMMs) offset costs to adopt Smart Manufacturing (Industry 4.0) Technologies. In this article, I will introduce you to another new federal funding opportunity that also includes a mini-grant component.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies (ARISE) funding opportunity is a 5-state Appalachian Coalition of Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Centers (NWIRC is part of the PA MEP). Through this funding opportunity, SMMs can gain the technical assistance to enter and expand in new energy economy supply chains, implement green manufacturing and smart energy approaches, retool factories and product lines, and build a skilled workforce to fulfill these emerging markets. The technical assistance provided will lead to increased sales and more profitable growth and will better position companies to meet customer demands and preferences. Additionally, companies can implement improvement projects that lower operating costs, increase supply chain resilience, and improve talent attraction and retention. The mini-grant component will help offset the cost for the technical assistance received making the decision to implement easier and the return on investment even better.

Let’s take a closer look at the two distinct areas of the ARC ARISE grant. The premise for the first focused area is that many SMMs are disconnected from new energy economy supply chains. Clean energy segments include electric grids, geothermal, hydropower, hydrogen production, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind. Product-related segments include batteries, chemicals, circular plastics, energy efficiency, grid components, and low-carbon production. SMMs, especially busy ones, often do not have the time or capacity to thoroughly evaluate potential opportunities in these segments. For those companies that may already be engaged in one or more of these emerging industry or product segments and want to expand, the challenges may be retooling factories and product lines, and developing a skilled workforce to fulfill these emerging markets.

Smart energy efficient and greener factories is the second area of focus of the ARC ARISE grant. While many SMMs have been proactive to lower energy costs with investments in new lighting, windows, HVAC systems, equipment, and other upgrades and renovations, the premise with this focused area is to further expand and accelerate greener factory strategies (e.g., solar, wind, hydro, efficiency and/or geothermal). The same can be said for increasing and accelerating water and waste reduction efforts and the growing interests for resource efficiency (e.g., decarbonization, carbon reduction, GHG emissions, or general resource reductions). There is also a growing interest on the part of current and potential customers and employees regarding sustainability. Another factor at play here is that many SMMs are unaware of new tax incentives, federal, state, and local grant programs that can help.

Industrial energy audits; combined heat and power and waste heat recovery assessments; zero waste plans; product line launch and expansion assistance; workforce training strategies including utilization of apprentices; de-risking strategies for expansion into clean energy and other technology lines; vendor assessment and pre-qualification guidance; supplier scouting; and other tailored plans for manufacturing growth in the new energy economy are just some of the projects the ARC ARISE will support with mini-grants to help offset the implementation costs.

If you have questions or would like to learn more, please contact Mike Griffith at mgriffith@nwirc.org.