ARC grant helps Kentucky Water Research Institute plan workforce development, training center

Photo provided by ARC ARISE.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 15, 2024) — The University of Kentucky’s Kentucky Water Research Institute (KWRI) was awarded $429,761 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) for its new project — the Appalachian Water Infrastructure Workforce Development and Training Center. 

The funding was made available through ARC’s Appalachian Regional Initiative for Stronger Economies (ARISE), which drives large-scale economic transformation through multi-state collaboration. 

UK, along with West Virginia University, the Kentucky Rural Water Association and the West Virginia Rural Water Association, will conduct research on water workforce needs in central Appalachia, establish an advisory board and develop an implementation plan for a regional water workforce development and training center. 

Donna McNeil, research engineer associate at KWRI will serve as the project director and principal investigator. Steven Buck, Ph.D., associate professor in the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, and Sahar Alameh, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UK College of Education, are co-investigators on the grant. 

“Our research team is excited and appreciative to be selected for this ARC ARISE funding which is instrumental to further our efforts to ensure the issue of operator recruitment and retention is addressed,” said McNeil. “Our previous research identified a critical shortage of certified operators in Kentucky and West Virginia through responses from water operators and managers. Data collected from the Kentucky Operator Certification Program revealed a 31% reduction of certified operators between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2023.”

The ARISE funding opportunity drives large-scale economic transformation through collaborative multi-state projects. Since January 2023, ARC has used funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to invest over $69 million in ARISE projects to strengthen Appalachian business and industry, as well as support new economic opportunities across the region. 

“We are grateful for this funding from ARC which will enable UK to work together with regional partners to take the first steps in the development of a world-class water workforce development and training center. A well-trained workforce to operate our water infrastructure is necessary for economic development in central Appalachia and is critical for the health and well-being of its residents,” said KWRI Director Jason Unrine, Ph.D. 

Funding for this project is made possible via the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)’s ARISE Initiative to drive large-scale, regional economic transformation through multi-state collaborative projects across Appalachia. Through funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, ARC launched ARISE to strengthen Appalachian business and industry, and to grow and support the development of new opportunities across multiple states. This program is supported by ARC as part of an award totaling $429,761 with 20% financed with non-governmental sources.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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