CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Several higher education institutions in West Virginia launched an alliance Monday meant to kick-start area economic development.

The Herald-Dispatch reports the Alliance for the Economic Development for Southern West Virginia will focus on 21 counties and aims to revitalize the area's small communities by using their resources more efficiently.

The group will complement existing economic development projects without duplicating efforts, said Alliance member and Marshal University President Jerome Gilbert.

Gilbert said an existing economic plan developed by West Virginia University, known as West Virginia Forward, provides "detailed statewide plans and a roadmap to economic development, which is very much needed."

"The Alliance is consistent with the objectives set in West Virginia Forward, but I envision the alliance as having a more boots-on-the-ground approach to help the hardest hit region in our state," he said.

The group hopes to use education services, workforce training and other resources to create jobs and improve business opportunities in the area.

The group, comprising 10 area schools, will offer workshops and events throughout the year on topics ranging from expanding broadband to fighting the opioid epidemic.