EastPark grant

Rep. Hal Rogers announces the grant.

EASTPARK A $4 million grant to the EastPark Industrial Center will help prepare the site of the planned Braidy Industries aluminum plant.

The money will come from the Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot program, according to fifth district U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who unveiled the grant Wednesday at the industrial park.

“The northeast region is thriving with new innovative opportunities and this grant supports Braidy Industries’ plans to provide jobs to our highly skilled, readily available workforce,” Rogers said. “It also paves the way for future economic development opportunities and helps us reimagine Kentucky’s Appalachian region as a major manufacturing hub.”

The money will pay for installation of foundation structures to stabilize the land under the plant, according to Braidy senior vice president for government relations Nathan Haney.

“It’s a tremendous thing for the region,” Haney said. “It shows the foresight of the industrial park to apply for a grant on a reclaimed mine property.”

The thousand-acre EastPark is built on reclaimed former strip mine land.

The structures will be a grid of support piers and columns to support the weight of the 2.5 million square foot plant, according to a Rogers spokeswoman.

Rogers applauded the Braidy project and Northeast Kentucky for driving the kind of economic development the grants target.

“This area is exploding with talent and motivation and a multitude of economic opportunities,” he said. “This project is as close as you can get to being a perfect example of the model I’d like all the (other grant recipients) to use.”

The grant is possibly the largest approved from the pilot project in its three years, he said.

The site work the money will fund “will get this thing off the ground and get everything moving,” said Greenup County Judge-Executive Bobby Carpenter. “In my 25 years, this is one of the greatest things I’ve seen around here . . . this is a project that needs to get rolling. It’s the greatest place to put the money, not just for us but for all of Appalachia.”

Rogers made the announcement at the EastPark campus of Ashland Community and Technical College, which is adjacent to the Braidy site and which is offering a new two-year degree program to train workers for the plant.

The advanced integrated technology program includes coursework and hands-on lab work in electricity, hydraulics and pneumatics presented to encourage critical thinking and problem solving, according to Butch Smith, one of the instructors.

Braidy plans to hire some graduates of the program who meet certain academic and other requirements, but the degree will be useful in other industries, Smith said.

“They’re getting an education regardless of whether Braidy hires them or not. They’re getting out with a two-year degree  and an understanding of manufacturing.”

“It’s an opportunity coming to my area, the area where I live, where I’ve lived for my whole life. That’s why I’m in the program right now,” said Nick Bradley, a student in the program.

Rogers’ visit to the campus showed him “the energy in what’s going on here at the college with Braidy and (its subsidiary) Veloxint,” ACTC President Larry Ferguson said. “He’s been a long-time supporter of the community college system and funding for economic development . . . he’s heavily invested in higher education.”

With the coal industry no longer thriving, the proposed aluminum plant figures into a Kentucky economy that will move the state forward, according to Rogers. “Today, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine the future of eastern Kentucky and to diversify our economy,” he said.

The plant is expected to cost more than $1.5 billion and employ more than 500 in skilled labor jobs and has a 2020 opening target.

The company received state and local government incentives, including a $15 million state investment along with up to $10 million in tax incentives.

Boyd and Greenup counties are foregoing property taxes for 20 years.

The AML Pilot Program, funded through the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, is a joint effort by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, the Department for Local Government, the SOAR Initiative in Eastern Kentucky, the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and the Energy and Environment Cabinet, Division of Abandoned Mine Lands.

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Mike James is The Independent's education reporter. He has covered news in Northeast Kentucky since 1996.