Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


January 29, 2014

Higher education: Movement in Buchanan, Tazewell

— — Welcomed progress is being made in the Southwest Virginia counties of Buchanan and Tazewell as it relates to a higher education economic development model.

We learned just last week that construction on the new building that will house the long-planned Appalachian College of Optometry is now complete. But equipment is still being moved into the structure, and related work is ongoing inside of the building, according to Buchanan County Administrator Craig Horn.

The optometry school project has been several years in the making. Buchanan County was awarded a $5.6 million loan from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority in 2010 for the construction of the campus at the Buchanan Information Park in Grundy.

Now, if all goes as planned, the optometry school should be up and running in the near future. Horn says an announcement should be made within the next three to four weeks regarding an opening date for the new college of optometry.

It will be the third higher-education facility developed for Buchanan County. The county’s unique economic development strategy is centered in part around the development of private graduate schools as a means of creating direct and indirect jobs. This vision has already led to the creation of the Appalachian School of Law and the Appalachian College of Pharmacy.

The optometry college is another welcomed addition to the higher education economic development model. It will also further help in the diversification of an economy that was once largely dependent upon coal.

And just across the district line in neighboring Tazewell County, the new Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine also is on a fast track toward completion. The new dental school will be located at the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park near Bluefield, Va. Current plans call for the dental school to be open in August 2016, according to Dr. Francis G. Serio, DMD, MS, MBA, who was recently appointed dean of the dental school.

The dental school is a project between Bluefield College, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority. It is proposed to serve 19 different counties in Southwest Virginia that have been identified as dental health professional shortage areas.

The recent progress on both the optometry and dental schools is welcomed news.

The willingness of local officials to take such necessary steps to help diversify the local economy is a prudent measure. There are multiple benefits to this higher education model. Good-paying jobs are being created, students seeking specialized higher education degrees will be able to complete their classes closer to home, and a new generation of dental and optometry professionals will be trained to help fill current and future vacancies in our region.

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