By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Most of us at the newspaper are tireless advocates for economic development in our region. That’s because if you are going to fight for something, jobs should be at the top of the priority list. We need good-paying jobs, as well as a more diversified economy. We also need new retail shopping and commercial options.
Unfortunately, development in our region slowed to a crawl following the onset of the Great Recession back in 2008. Projects that once had great potential — such as the Leatherwood development — were derailed by the economic storm. And national chains across the region — such as Goody’s, Movie Gallery, Borders, KB Toys and others — later closed their doors.
The recession was a troubling setback for the nation, and the region. But things have since improved. We are starting to see a lot of small business growth across the region, and a few bigger projects as well. For example, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet is scheduled to open this March at the old Big Lot’s site in Bluefield, Va. In fact, I noticed a “now hiring” banner has been displayed outside of the store. And the new dental school project appears to be on a fast development track at the Bluestone Technology and Business Park near Bluefield, Va.
Rumors also continue to persist that Target and Home Depot may be taking a look at the Princeton area. Both have been long requested for our region. In fact, I know of a lot of people who would be very happy to see a Target in the area. But it’s also important to note that a number of smaller stores also have opened in recent months, including the two new Sheetz stations in Princeton, the O’Reilly Auto Parts Store in Princeton, the Factory Outlet store in Princeton, Taco Bell in Bluefield, Va., the new Bellacino’s Grinders restaurant in Princeton, and even the new Pixel Nation Retro Game store in Bluefield. And construction is well underway on the new dialysis center on Bluefield Avenue — an important project for the city of Bluefield. Work also is continuing on the renovations to the old trucking company on John Nash Boulevard that will become the new home of the Bluefield Area Transit.
All of the aforementioned projects are a positive, and a good indicator of future growth for the area. It is true that economic development will often begin with small, home grown businesses. But it also helps — and a lot for that matter — when you can attract a Target, Home Depot, Barnes and Nobles, Macy’s or other large national retail chain to the region. And of course new manufacturing jobs, and high-tech jobs, are still urgently needed as well.
Developing the arts also is helpful to the growth of small downtown districts. And we are seeing such movements already underway in both Bluefield and Princeton. It’s also helpful to keep a positive attitude about one’s area. I know city and town elections are coming up this spring and summer across the region, including elections in both Bluefield and Princeton. So you are probably going to see more debate, and some differing opinions out there about what direction a specific city or town should be going. And you are probably going to see more debate in Bluefield than Princeton in the weeks and months ahead. That’s because Princeton has experienced a lot of growth in recent years, and continues to grow. And the only headline-capturing controversy we’ve seen coming out of the city government in Princeton in recent months has been the proposal to relocate city hall — and even then that debate has been relatively muted. In Bluefield, there has by comparison been a number of issues creating debate, including the whole controversy surrounding the still vacant Kroger building on Cumberland Road. Plus there is a growing sense of urgency in the city when it comes to economic development. So I expect we’ll see and hear a lot of ideas on how to better the city in the coming weeks. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s all a part of the great democracy we live in. The candidates should let their viewpoints be heard.
In fact, we can all agree to disagree at times. But we should always strive to be civil when it comes to debating our differences. But that’s not to say that we can’t stand by our own individual beliefs and thoughts on different social and political issues. But we certainly accomplish more when we are working together toward a more common goal of bettering our neighborhoods, cities and towns.
A positive attitude and a willingness to work together for the betterment of our communities can make a big difference in the long run. There are a lot of problems right now for the region that are certainly bigger than city hall itself. The citizens can help in working to address these issues, and bettering their individual communities, if they are united in their resolve for a better future.
Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him @BDTOwens.