Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 26, 2013

Signs of growth: Renewed hope for Mercer

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — With the clock slowly winding down on the year 2013, hopes are high for a period of rejuvenated growth across the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia in 2014.

But many of the same challenges we’ve been dealing with for quite some time remain, including Washington’s war on coal. But positive signs can still be found across the region, including right here in Mercer County. Potential business prospects continue to look at available sites in the area. Just last week, development authority and state officials hosted a tour of several available sites for an unidentified manufacturing firm that is considering Mercer County, according to county Development Authority Director Janet Bailey. And that’s exactly what we need. There has been a shortage of good-paying manufacturing jobs in Mercer County for quite some time now. It is our hope that last week’s tour could lead to a potential business commitment for the area.

And a new retail chain is still looking at several sites in the county, including the old Kmart property in Princeton, as well as sites in Bluefield and in neighboring Virginia. Bailey says county officials are still waiting to see if the unidentified company will commit to a site in Mercer County or not.

The old Kmart property in Princeton is one of the few still-available properties located near the interchange of U.S. Route 460 and Interstate 77. It is considered a prime site for commercial growth. We would love to see the area developed.

We do know from previous reports that both Target and Home Depot have looked at sites in the area. Folks across our region have long requested these two national big box chains. And we too would love to see both a Target and Home Depot in our area. But only time will tell if this wish could perhaps become a reality.

The long-planned multi-purpose/equestrian center project for Mercer County also remains on the front-burner of development officials. With officials now considering the Gardner area near Exit 14 for the project, the next step appears to be a design and marketing study, along with the continued search for funding to actually build the multi-purpose/equestrian center — a proposal that dates back to 2006. And development officials — mindful of the fact that some proposals can be studied to death — must also decide how much more money they want to expend on additional studies for this project.

Efforts also are being made to reach out to all prospective businesses and industries that have recently visited or toured sites in Mercer County. Bailey says Marie Blackwell, director of the Mercer County Visitors and Convention Bureau, is working on a new thank you postcard that will be mailed to all businesses and industries that visit the area. The postcard features a number of local attractions, including a Bramwell mansion, the Ridge Runner in Bluefield and a fall foliage scene of the region. The hope of course is to leave a positive impression with all visitors to the region — particularly those who may choose to expand or open a new store or plant in the region.

We too hope to see new growth and expansion in the region in 2014. And it is imperative for Mercer County to continue to grow.

New manufacturing, as well as retail jobs, are of the utmost importance. As is promoting continued tourism growth in the region with the existing Hatfield-McCoy Trail system. We must build upon what we have while seeking additional expansion and growth.