Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 9, 2014

Dental school: Tobacco commission funds critical

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Members of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission are scheduled to consider Tazewell County’s grant funding application later this month for the new Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine. It is our hope that the commission members will give this critical application full and fair funding consideration.

The dental school is a joint project of Bluefield College, the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority and the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. It is planned at the new Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park.

A recent economic impact study found that the project will create jobs, goods and services, salaries and wages, health care and spending, and from that tax revenue for Tazewell County totaling $74,000 in the first year of the project. By the fourth year of operation, tax revenue for Tazewell County from the dental school would be estimated at $1.5 million, according to the study. And by the seventh year of operation, the dental school is expected to generate an impressive $2.6 billion in tax revenue.

Also, as correctly noted by Dr. Francis G. Serio, dean for the new school of dental medicine, the region needs more dentists. He says that 50 percent of the dentists in the multi-state Appalachia area are over the age of 55, meaning the region can expect a significant shortage of dental professionals 10 years from now.

“There is really going to be a crisis unless something is done,” Serio told the Daily Telegraph earlier this year. “There are not enough young dentists coming back into the region. One goal is to persuade a percentage of dentists trained at the new school to stay in the region.”

Tazewell County is seeking more than $20 million in tobacco commission grant funding for the project. The commission is expected to consider the county’s application on either May 21 or 22. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and other local officials, are urging the tobacco commission to approve Tazewell County’s funding request.

So are we. The tobacco commission was created in 1999 by the General Assembly for the purpose of promoting economic development and growth in tobacco-dependent communities through the use of national tobacco settlement proceeds. And the commission has already made a significant difference in our region over the past several years by funding a number of important job-creating projects in the greater Southwest Virginia area. Now another worthwhile project merits funding.

We believe the dental school — a unique higher-education, economic development project — is a perfect fit for the commission’s stated mission. It is our hope that the tobacco commission will approve this worthwhile funding application.