BEXLEY, OH (WOWK) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has signed a bill that will invest $500 million into Appalachian communities across 32 counties.

House Bill 377, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Hall (R-Madison Township) and Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron), contains funding to go toward DeWine’s project “OhioBuilds – Small Communities, Big Impact – A Plan for Appalachia,” according to DeWine’s office.

The plan was proposed in April of this year as an effort to “unite Appalachian communities on transformational local projects,” the governor says. OhioBuilds stands for “Broadband, Utilities and Infrastructure for Local Development.”

“As I stated during my State of the State address, this is Appalachia’s time,” said DeWine. “With this investment, we will be securing a better future for this region.”

According to DeWine, those local projects fall under three main priorities – infrastructure, including for downtown development projects; health care, including to invest in school- and community-based services for physical and mental health; and workforce development, including creating public-private partnerships for building and coordinating job training.

The Ohio House of Representatives says the funds can also be awarded to grants for projects that impact a larger portion of the region.

The Mayors’ Partnership for Progress, a nonpartisan group of mayors and city managers across 18 counties in Southeastern Ohio, says they are grateful for the investment and called the funds “a reflection of the administration’s commitment to bettering our communities through locally driven projects.”

“The Mayors’ Partnership for Progress is extremely grateful for Gov. DeWine’s leadership, and also for our lawmakers’ support in his proposal.” the organization released in a statement through Ohio University. “Our Appalachian communities are thrilled to begin initiating transformational yet sustainable change in our communities, the lives of our children and families, and the economic health of our businesses.

DeWine’s office says not counting the $5 million in this bill, DeWine’s administration has allotted for more than $645 million since 2019, which officials add is more than double the Appalachian Regional Commission’s entire budget for this year to cover 13 states.

According to DeWine’s office, the Governor’s Office of Appalachia in the Ohio Department of Development will administer the grant process. Officials say there will be multiple application rounds until all of the funds have been awarded.