CHARLESTON — The defense industrial economy of West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania is set to see some potential growth over the next few years thanks to the newly formed AIM Higher Consortium, which plans to strengthen the region’s defense supply chain.
Funded by the United States Department of Defense, the AIM Higher Consortium spans the entire state of West Virginia and 12 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, and so far it’s brought together more than two dozen organizations and higher education institutions in an attempt to reach its goals.
Petra Mitchell, president and CEO of Catalyst Connection in Pittsburgh, which oversees the consortium, said the main goal of the initiative is to foster improvement and growth in the region’s defense supply chain companies.
“Locally and regionally, for our consortium, our objective is more focused on local economic development through DoD supply chains,” Mitchell said. “That includes helping defense suppliers grow their business, improve their productivity and ultimately create and maintain high-paying, family-sustaining jobs. …
“The DoD is a large buyer of advanced manufactured products and services, so we have a tremendous opportunity to grow our share of that pie. By growing our share, and by ‘our,’ I mean our region … we can have a positive impact on economic development in our community.”
One of the many partners in the consortium is TechConnect WV, led by Executive Director Anne Barth. Barth told WV News that her organization’s main goal is reaching out to defense companies in the state and making them aware of the resources available to them through the consortium.
“TechConnect is an integrator pulling people together to make sure they’re aware of the program and that they’re aware of the technology aspect of it and have an interest in sharing information and knowledge of how manufacturers can begin incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning into their production so that they are more resilient and their supply chain is more resilient, and they have a better chance of participating in the defense supply chain, which is growing in West Virginia,” Barth said.
The consortium aims to aid these companies by providing them with a slew of resources, including a self-assessment, a supply chain asset map, networking opportunities, a supplier capacities database, mini-grants and events.
While the initiative was only created in 2020, Mitchell said several virtual events have already been held, giving these companies the chance to take advantage of the various services the consortium provides.
Barth said she’s happy that TechConnect WV is a part of the consortium, as it provides additional resources to companies that TechConnect would be trying to aid to begin with.
“It provides a platform and forum for these companies to come together and talk about shared goals and share the learnings that are coming out,” Barth said. “They can take a look at their own operations to build resilience for the future. We need to be producing things in the defense supply chain in the United States, and our region is well-positioned and has a long history of playing that role. I see AIM as a way to enhance the defense sector in West Virginia, which is growing. …
“We also see this as a great opportunity to utilize the newly formed West Virginia chapter of the National Defense Industrial Association, which is a 100-year-old organization focused on making sure America’s defenses are strong. That chapter was formed last summer, and the group is active and engaged and reaching out to grow the membership.
“That entity and the AIM Higher Consortium together can highlight the importance of this sector and get the word out to companies that maybe have never considered trying to be a part of the defense supply…