Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Sometimes it takes a big idea, and a willingness by aggressive elected officials to actively fight for that idea, for good things to happen. That’s what we are seeing today in Tazewell County.
The new school of dentistry announced last week by county officials is an exciting collaboration that holds great potential for the region. Bluefield College, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, and the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority are collaborating on the project that is planned at the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park.
The new school, which could start enrolling students by the fall of 2015, will help to address the growing shortage of dentists in Appalachia, said Dr. David Olive, president of Bluefield College.
“Dentists and professional dental care are limited in Central Appalachia, but this new dental school will address that problem and begin to fill our understaffed clinics with the personnel needed to provide rural residents with sufficient oral care,” Olive said.
In addition to creating urgently needed new jobs, the dental campus will also bring welcomed employment diversification to the region. Mike Hymes, chairman of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, is calling the project an “economic-stabilization package” for the region.
“We know that health care is one of the fastest-growing areas, and it’s predicted to be one of the fastest-growing areas for the next 10 to 20 years as the baby boomers age,” Hymes said last week. “Without this space, this memorandum of understanding, or Bluefield College, we could not get into that industry, and that’s one we need to be active in. The impact of the school will be significant. It will provide new employment diversification for our area. You need only to visit a town that has a health-care type or education facility to see how it stabilizes your economy, and it brings other opportunities into the community. It brings jobs of different types, so this is what it’s all about. It’s an economic-stabilization package.”
Hymes is correct. In fact, one needs to look no further than neighboring Buchanan County to see how such a project can help. More than a decade ago, leaders in Buchanan County had the foresight to develop a law school in the small Grundy community. The impact of the law school was far reaching, and led to the subsequent creation of a pharmaceutical school in Grundy and now a planned optometry school. By transforming Grundy into a community of higher education, officials were able to diversify a local economy that was once dependent solely upon coal.
We would anticipate the same type of success now in Tazewell County. As the first official tenant of the Bluestone, the dental school will not only create jobs, but also spin-off benefits for the region as a whole. County Administrator Jim Spencer points to Virginia Tech as an example.
“As I’ve said many times, the education-led economic development is powerful,” Spencer said. “You can see what has happened around that campus (Virginia Tech), and we can replicate that same model here with a partnership we’ve established with Bluefield College.”
The county acquired the Bluestone property in 2004 and, to date, 77 percent of the cost to prepare the property for prospective businesses and industries has come from grant funding. The dental school will be an excellent first tenant for the park, and should serve as the catalyst for additional education-led growth in the region.
All parties involved, including Bluefield College, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, and the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority, are to be applauded for their efforts in helping to develop this welcomed school of dentistry.