Coal-Reliant Communities Innovation Challenge

​The National Association of Counties and the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, with the support of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, are partnering to support county and regional leaders in coal-reliant communities with retooling their economies to become more resilient to changing conditions. Throughout 2015, NACo and NADO Research Foundation hosted three intensive, hands-on workshops designed to boost the innovative potential of coal-reliant counties and regions seeking to grow and diversify their economies. Counties and regions were asked to form teams to apply to enter the program. Teams that submitted winning applications were selected to attend one of three workshops guided by expert facilitators and practitioners. These workshops were structured to guide counties and regions to design solutions tailored to their communities’ needs and identify implementable projects.     

Resources

For a full list of workshop activities and information on the teams that participated, please visit diversifyeconomies.org, and check out the Innovation Challenge Workshops tab.

For County News stories and podcasts highlighting the workshop outcomes, visit:

 

Timeline

First Competition:

Workshop location: Pikeville, Kentucky

Workshop date: April 22-24, 2015

Second Competition:

Workshop location: Grand Junction, Colorado

Workshop date: September 16-18, 2015

Third Competition:

Workshop location: Charleston, West Virginia 

Workshop date: November 18-20, 2015

Eligibility & Criteria

The Innovation Challenge is open to all counties and regions in the U.S. that are economically linked to the coal industry, including those that are coal-producing and those that are home to significant concentrations of coal processing and related facilities, including coal-fired power plants.  

Counties and regions are asked to form teams to apply to enter the program.

Each team should include a minimum of four and a maximum of six total participants.  In addition to the main point of contact, the team must have at a minimum three additional members, or up to five additional members. 

  • Teams must include at least one regional development organization representative (such as an Economic Development District or Council of Governments staff or board member).
  • Teams must include at least one county official or a senior appointee, such as a county manager.
  • Although not mandatory, teams are strongly encouraged to include a workforce development professional. 
  • Strong applications will include staff or elected officials representing local municipalities, community development organizations, area businesses, philanthropic organizations, educational institutions, and/or other critical stakeholders in your community.
  • Note: A maximum of two representatives from a given organization are allowed to participate on a team.​
Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the purpose of the Innovation Challenge?

A: The Innovation Challenge will support county and regional leaders in coal-reliant communities with retooling their economies to become more resilient to changing conditions. The Innovation Challenge is designed by the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, with funding and programmatic support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Q: What resources will the Innovation Challenge provide?

A: Throughout 2015, NACo and NADO Research Foundation will host three intensive, hands-on workshops designed to boost the innovative potential of coal-reliant counties and regions seeking to grow and diversify their economies. Counties and regions are asked to form teams to apply to attend a workshop. Teams that submit winning applications will be selected to attend a workshop guided by expert facilitators and practitioners. These workshops will be structured to guide counties and regions to design solutions tailored to their communities’ needs and identify implementable projects.

Q: What are the overall goals and outcomes anticipated as a result of holding these workshops?

A: Outcomes could include new approaches to supporting emerging clusters or industries, new economic development programming, local policy changes, funding sources and partnerships to pursue and specific projects or activities to pursue.

Q: Who can apply to attend an economic development workshop?

A: The Innovation Challenge is open to all counties and regions in the U.S. with strong economic ties to the coal industry, including those that are coal-producing and those that are home to significant concentrations of coal processing and related facilities, including coal-fired power plants.

Q: Are only coal-producing counties and regions eligible to apply?

A: No, places that are home to coal-fired power plants, coal processing facilities and transportation hubs are highly encouraged to apply.

Q: How do I know if my county or region is defined as ‘coal-reliant’?

A: This program is not placing a geographic or quantifiable limit on what counties and regions are considered ‘coal-reliant,’ and therefore there are no limits on who can apply. Instead, applicants are expected to apply based on their own needs and solution-based goals for economic diversification. Additionally, any county or region wishing to apply should demonstrate its link to the coal industry in Part II, Question 2 on the application.

Q: Does a county or region have to be a member of NACo or NADO to apply?

A: No, counties and regional development organizations do not need to be members of NACo or NADO respectively to apply for the Innovation Challenge.

Q: Who can participate on a team?

A: Each team should include a minimum of four and a maximum of six total participants. In addition to the main point of contact, the team must have at a minimum three additional members, or up to five additional members.

  • Teams must include at least one regional development organization representative (such as an Economic Development District or Council of Governments staff or board member).

  • Teams must include at least one county official or a senior appointee, such as a county manager.

  • Although not mandatory, teams are strongly encouraged to include a workforce development professional.

  • Strong applications will include staff or elected officials representing local municipalities, community development organizations, area businesses, philanthropic organizations, educational institutions, and/or other critical stakeholders in your community.

  • Note: A maximum of two representatives from a given organization are allowed to participate on a team.

Q: Will both rural and urban issues be covered at the workshops?

A: Yes. Each workshop will be tailored to the specific issues that selected teams want to address, likely including both rural and urban issues.

Q: Can communities apply that are not currently experiencing economic impacts from the downturn of the coal industry, but expect to in the future?

A: Yes, communities can apply that are not currently experiencing economic impacts from the downturn of the coal industry. However, they must demonstrate anticipated impacts in Part II Question 2 of the application.

Q: Can a regional development organization (RDO) participate in more than one application?

A: Yes. However, the likelihood of accepting two applications with team members from the same organization to attend the same workshop will be contingent on the number of applications received.

Q: When and where will workshops take place?

A:

  • The first workshop will take place in mid-April, 2015 in eastern Kentucky.

  • The second workshop will take place in mid-September, 2015 in Colorado.

  • The third workshop will take place in mid-November, 2015 in West Virginia.

Q: How long are each of the workshops?

A: Each workshop will last approximately 2.5 days. The anticipated schedule for each event is to begin in the afternoon on a Wednesday, last all day Thursday, and end mid-day on Friday

Q: What will be covered at the workshops?

A: Each workshop will be led by an expert facilitator that will guide teams to design solutions that address community needs and identify implementable projects. Although each workshop will be tailored specifically to the needs of the selected participants, each team will likely participate in group presentations, panel discussions, small group exercises and peer exchanges. Additionally, regional experts and leaders will be invited to participate in sessions related to regional-level economic challenges in proximity to each workshop location.

Q: Will all three workshops cover the same content?

A: No. Although some overall framing content related to economic resilience will be featured during all three workshops, each workshop will be tailored to the needs and issues of each team and the counties/regions they represent.

Q: Will there be geographic limitations for which teams can apply to which workshops?

A: There are no geographic limitations for which teams can apply to each of the three workshops. However, given the unique regional challenges that coal-impacted communities face, NACo and NADO assume that applicants will choose to apply for a competition based on relative proximity to the workshop locations (i.e. Eastern Kentucky, Colorado or West Virginia). Note: Local and regional experts will be invited to each workshop, so topic area discussions and networking opportunities might be more beneficial to teams within relative proximity of a workshop location.

Q: Can the same team apply to attend more than one workshop?

A: Yes, teams can apply to attend more than one workshop. Note: The likelihood of accepting the same team for more than one workshop is dependent on the amount of demand for each workshop.

Q: How many teams will be selected to attend each workshop?

A: Up to eight teams will be selected to attend each workshop.

Q: Why is each workshop limited to eight teams?

A: The workshops are limited to eight teams in order to make the workshops as beneficial as possible. The eight-team limit will ensure that each team and team member can fully participate in the workshop and get as much value out of the activities as possible.

Q: Is there one application cycle for all three workshops, or three separate application cycles?

A: There are three separate competitions. Each workshop will have its own application and competition.

Q: If a county/region is not selected for a workshop, can that team reapply for another?

A: Yes. Teams can apply for multiple workshops.

Q: When do the applications open and close?

A:

  • The application for the first workshop, to take place in Pikeville, Kentucky in April, opened January 7, 2015 and closed February 27, 2015. The first workshop applicants were notified about the status of their applications in mid-March 2015.

  • The application for the second workshop, to take place in Grand Junction, Colorado on September 16-18, opens Friday, May 29, 2015 and closes Friday, July 17, 2015. The second workshop applicants will be notified about the status of their application by early-August 2015.

  • The application for the third workshop, to take place in Charleston, West Virginia on November 18-20, opens Monday, August 17, 2015 and closes Monday, September 28, 2015. The third workshop applicants will be notified about the status of their application by mid-October 2015.

Q: How will applications be evaluated?

A: Applications will be evaluated and weighted based on these rating factors:

  • Why is your team interested in attending an innovation workshop? List specific issues your team plans to address in the workshop. (10 points) High scoring applicants will clearly articulate how participation in the workshop will benefit the county/region and what types of information of support the team hopes to gain from participating.

  • Clear description of how the county/region is reliant upon the coal industry and describe the anticipated or existing economic challenges due to the contraction of the coal industry. (25 points) High scoring applicants will clearly describe these impacts using anecdotal evidence and statistics when possible (i.e. changes in coal production, the number of jobs in coal-related industries, unemployment, GDP, etc.). Please note if your county/region is home to a coal-fired power plant, coal processing facilities, transportation hubs, or other infrastructure related to the coal industry.

  • Does your region have existing economic development plans in place, such as a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), HUD SCI-funded plans, or other economic development plans? If so, describe them and your team's previous or ongoing efforts to implement them. (10 points) High scoring applicants will describe existing economic-development related plans in place and provide details related to strategies for implementation of existing plans.

  • Discuss previous efforts or existing activities related to coal industry contraction in your county or region and how participation in the workshop will build on these efforts. (10 points) High scoring applicants will clearly draw linkages between the existing activities related to coal industry contraction in the county or region with how the workshop will help support these activities.

  • Discuss previous efforts or existing activities related to economic diversification in your county or region and how participation in the workshop will build on these efforts. Please include any workforce development efforts you are pursuing to support these activities. (10 points) High scoring applicants will clearly draw linkages between the existing activities related to economic diversification and workforce development-related activities in the county or region with how the workshop will help support these activities.

  • Discuss specific results or outcomes that you plan to achieve as a result of attending the workshop. (15 points) High scoring applicants will articulate specific results that the team hopes to achieve as a result of attending the workshop. For example, outcomes could include new approaches to supporting emerging clusters or industries, new economic development programming, local policy changes, funding sources and partnerships to pursue, specific projects to implement, or other activities.

  • Describe existing institutional capacity and any potential programs or funding sources that the team may be able to leverage to implement projects post-workshop. (10 points) High scoring applicants will clearly describe existing institutional capacity and any potential programs or funding sources that the team may be able to leverage to implement projects post-workshop.

  • Potential team contributions to the overall discussions and sharing that will take place among all participants at the workshop (i.e., willingness of each team to share its activities and ideas with others). (10 points) High scoring applicants will list what the team wants to gain from fellow workshop participants and clearly describe three tangible things the team will contribute to the workshop.

Q: Who will be reviewing the applications?

A: NACo and NADO Research Foundation staff will screen each application to ensure the key eligibility criteria are met, and an external team of national experts will review team applications. The panel will assign a final score to each application and rank them in score order and recommend for selection the most highly rated applications.

Q: Will applicants know the score their application receives?

A: NACo and NADO Research Foundation staff will not send quantitative scores for each application, but they will provide application feedback and support to teams that are interested in submitting an application to another competition in the Innovation Challenge.

Q: Will selected teams receive funding?

A: No, selected counties/regions will not receive a financial award.

Q: Will selected teams have to pay a registration fee to attend the workshop?

A: No.

Q: Will there be travel funds for selected teams to attend the workshops?

A: Yes, NACo has a limited budget to partially offset team travel costs.

Q: What costs should teams anticipate to attend the workshops?

A: NACo has a limited budget to offset some transportation and lodging costs to attend the workshops. The exact funding available for each team’s transportation/lodging costs will be worked out after teams are selected. Teams should expect to cover a portion of their transportation/lodging costs.

Q: Will meals be provided at the workshops?

A: NACo and NADO Research Foundation will provide breakfast and lunch for each of the two full days of each workshop. Teams will be on their own for dinners.

Q: Will selected teams need to do anything to prepare for the workshops?

A: Each main point of contact for each team is expected to engage team members in up to two pre-workshop conference calls (led by workshop facilitators and organizers) and assemble any additional information that is requested ahead of time.

Q: What type of follow-up actions will selected teams be expected to pursue after attending a workshop?

A: To help facilitate next steps towards implementation of new ideas from each workshop, each team is expected to participate on at least two post-workshop conference calls to discuss follow-up actions.

Q: Are various county and state associations involved with the Innovation Challenge?

A: Yes. As NACo and NADO organize and implement the workshops, we are actively engaged with the state associations in regions affected by the contraction of the coal industry.

Q: How can I learn more about the workshops?

A:To read more about the teams that participated and view materials from the workshops, visit the Innovation Challenge Workshops tab at: DiversifyEconomies.org, which also features resources containing information on economic diversification.

If you have any additional questions, please email Kathy Nothstine.