By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Spreading the word about a future dental school that could enhance Tazewell County’s economy and the health of people throughout the region was the goal Monday of a banquet for area dentists at Bluefield College.
Last year, Bluefield College, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and the Tazewell County Development Authority announced plans to establish a new college of dentistry at the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park near Bluefield, Va. During a press conference prior to Monday’s presentation, Bluefield College President Dr. David Olive said almost 100 people — dentists and their spouses — attended the banquet to learn more about the new college.
“It’s a great turnout,” Olive said. “I think it speaks very well of the interest and enthusiasm for this dental program. The dentists really want to know about the curriculum and what the clinicals will be like.”
Dr. Karen West, a project consultant and dean of the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, is currently developing the new college curriculum. She estimated that the school would see its first class by the fall of 2015. By the time the college has four classes going through the college, it will have a total of approximately 240 students.
The dental college will generate about 50 jobs, said Tazewell County Administrator Jim Spencer. The fact that the college is also an anchor tenant at the new business and industrial park will have economic benefits, too.
“We feel that’s going to be a tremendous draw to bring people in,” Spencer said, adding that having the college will create more opportunities for Southwest Virginia’s young people to find a career and stay in the region.
“It’s been said that our greatest export has been our children,” he added.
Olive said having this influx of dental students who will live in Tazewell County will benefit the economy.
“I think for those who are savvy and see what’s coming, I foresee a lot of investment that is new to the community,” Olive said.
All this new activity could generate new interest in the region, said U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said.
“It’s just human nature,” he said. “You’re more likely to locate in a community where you see things happening and that things are moving forward rather than a community where things tend to be stagnant.”
The estimated cost of constructing the building at the Bluestone and equipping the college is $13 million.
“Plus you’re going to have an operational shortfall for six to seven years of another $13 million,” Spencer said later. “So you’re looking at a $26 million project, and we’re actively seeking grants and low-interest loans and whatever we need to bring this about. The county is financially backing this project — not the full $26 million — but the county is going to be a major player in this economic development project. And our return on investment is better health care, job creation and an anchor tenant in the Bluestone.”
Drew Lumpkin, a representative of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., read a letter from the senator that expressed his support for the project.
“The urgent in need for doctors and dentists are both a health and an economic problem in this region. I commend the partnership for addressing the shortage of dental professionals in the area as well as providing access to quality oral health care,” Warner said in his letter.
Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-3rd District, and Delegate James Morefield, R-3rd District, also sent statements expressing their support for the dental college.