Our investment in Coalfield Development

Beth Foster-Chao
Beth Foster-Chao April 14, 2022 3 min read
Four Coalfield Development trainees smiling and posing for a group photo — two women wearing hard hats and hi-viz vests, and two men wearing hooded canvas work jackets.

Demand for coal in the United States has fallen dramatically over the last decade as natural gas and renewables become more affordable, the export market remains volatile, and federal environmental regulations increase the cost of burning coal. In the past 15 years, coal production has dropped by 65% in Appalachia.

In Central Appalachia, coal mining has been a cornerstone of many communities and at one time employed more than 20% of workers in the region. This decline of the coal industry has had spillover effects, leading to job loss, economic distress, and hopelessness. Today, Appalachian communities that built their economies around coal are faced with building a future without it.

The transition away from coal is critical for combatting climate change and is an opportunity to reinvigorate local economies with low-carbon jobs of the future.

Why Coalfield Development?

As part of our Work & Prosperity portfolio, The Autodesk Foundation has made an investment in Coalfield Development (Coalfield), a West Virginia nonprofit focused on facilitating employment and economic transition through workforce development programs and social enterprise incubation and investment in the region. 

Coalfield has developed a training model that provides professional, personal, and academic development opportunities for individuals facing barriers to full employment. Core to their approach is the 33-6-3 model: 33 hours a week spent in on-the-job training, six credit hours per week through community college coursework, and three hours a week on personal development coaching. Training participants begin with a six-month on-ramp program to identify and remove barriers and then either transition onto a 2.5-year, 33-6-3 contract as a Coalfield “crew” member or work with Coalfield staff to secure a role within the nonprofit’s employer network that pays at or above what they had been earning before. 

Because of the region’s long-time dependence on coal, Coalfield also incubates and invests in employment-based social enterprises to bolster the local economy, build community wealth, and increase job opportunities for people who have been displaced by mine closures. These businesses include Coalfield’s in-house social enterprises—Revitalize Appalachia, a real estate and construction firm and Mountain Mindful, a manufacturer of apparel and home furnishings made from recycled content—as well as the dozens of businesses it invests in through its SEED Fund. Importantly, the enterprises incubated and grown by Coalfield Development embrace environmental sustainability and model what a more diversified, climate-resilient economy can look like in Appalachia. For example, Coalfield incubated the first solar company in the region, has expanded local food enterprises, and recently invested in a renewable battery storage startup.

A low-carbon workforce investment

Coalfield is the Autodesk Foundation’s first Work & Prosperity investment that is inextricably linked to our climate change mitigation and adaptation priorities. Climate change requires us to take urgent action to drive down our emissions, actions that are transforming the industry and the future of work. Combatting climate change requires a concerted, global, proactive, and equitable plan for supporting communities at risk of near terms impact. Coalfield works in a region that has seen disinvestment for years, and yet Coalfield is building a different narrative for this former coal region. Its vision is for a thriving and resilient Appalachia that’s home to innovative local businesses and quality jobs in the green economy.

Collaboration with the Autodesk Foundation

As an innovative workforce development organization committed to helping workers transition into new economy jobs offering family-sustaining wages, we are eager to align Autodesk’s resources, industry expertise, and networks to support Coalfield’s ambitions to scale. This year, we’ll support Coalfield to start leveraging Autodesk tools within its manufacturing and construction social enterprises. By helping Coalfield adopt Autodesk software, we aim to strengthen the impact and performance of these enterprises, while training their employees with the technical skills that will make them competitive in the labor market long term.

The Autodesk Foundation looks forward to using our talent and technology resources to amplify Coalfield’s leadership in the just transition underway in Appalachia and its efforts to create a blueprint for coal communities across the globe.

Learn more about how Coalfield is rebuilding economies from the ground up.