While it may appear that Tazewell County is giving money to Bluefield College for the creation of a dental school or spending money it shouldn’t spend, that is not the case. In fact, every dollar extended to the Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine for start-up support will be returned to the county. The county is not giving or spending, but rather investing in a dental school project that will reap returns greater than its investment. As reported in an economic impact study conducted by Mangum Economic Consulting, those returns will come in the form of:
• Tax revenue: The new dental school will create goods and services, salaries and wages, health care and spending, and from that tax revenue for Tazewell County: $74,000 in the first year of the project, $1.5 million by the fourth year (the first year students are enrolled), and $2.6 million by year seven.
• Other revenue: Nearly 250 students are expected to be enrolled in the dental school after four years of student enrollment, each spending an average of $1,379 per month in Tazewell County during the school year for a total of $727,843 in spending per year.
• Jobs: Not including the construction and contract jobs produced in the short term to build the dental school facility, the dental school project will create at least 43 new full-time jobs for faculty and staff and another 93 related full-time positions within the county for a total of 136 new jobs after four years of student enrollment.
• Lease payments: Once constructed, Tazewell County’s Industrial Development Authority will own the dental school building, and Bluefield College will be leasing the facility from the county, providing steady income for the county for years to come.
• Anchoring The Bluestone: As the anchor of the County’s Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Center, the dental school will be a tremendous draw for other industries to locate inside the complex. Once fully developed, The Bluestone will provide 680 acres of mixed used development, including 180 acres for business.
• Other economic development: Studies show that with new business comes additional community development. In this case, other development may well include apartments for students, houses and condominiums for faculty and staff, and opportunities for new business start-ups and current business expansion.
• Overall economic impact: The new dental school will generate an overall economic impact of a half million dollars for Tazewell County in its first year of operation alone, a $10.4 million impact by year four, and an $18 million overall economic impact by year seven.
Beyond the economic benefits for Tazewell County are the oral health benefits for the citizens of the county, Southwest Virginia and Central Appalachia in the form of:
• Improved access to dental care: The proposed patient service areas of the dental school are the 41 counties of Southwest and Southside Virginia. Currently, 13 of the 41 counties are completely without access to nearby professional oral care, and a total of 30 of the 41 counties in the footprint are said to have shortages in general dental care. The new dental school will address these shortages with student-based clinical outreach programs. In addition, the dental school will seek to create partnerships with dental safety net providers in the service area that deliver a significant level of health-related services to uninsured, Medicaid and other vulnerable patients.
• Improved ratio of dentists to patients: Statistics show a growing shortage of dentists and dental care professionals in Southwest Virginia and Central Appalachia. In fact, at three per 10,000, the dentist-to-patient ratio in this region is now half the national average. The new dental school will address this issue by creating a pipeline of trained dental care providers to fill positions within the understaffed clinics of the region.
• Reversing the trend: Improved oral health starts with education and with our youth. That’s why the new dental school will use its dispersed clinical model to send dental students out into underserved areas of the region to participate in community service projects designed to inform and educate young people about proper oral care. The result: well-informed future generations of Appalachian residents who can help break the cycle of poor health outcomes in their communities.
• Improved overall oral health: Greater access to dental care, a growing number of dentists providing service in the region, and a well informed generation of young people can only mean one thing: improved overall oral health for Tazewell County and Central Appalachia. This new dental school will provide that as it seeks to train students to provide oral care for the residents of this region with a sense of leadership and commitment to care for the underserved.
This is a great opportunity for Tazewell County and our region. It will be the only dental school in Central Appalachia. And, as the only dental school in Central Appalachia, the Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine will provide an outstanding opportunity for young people from this region to stay at home for professional education and a rewarding career as a dentist. This is a project that will benefit everyone, and Bluefield College is proud to be a partner with the community in this endeavor.
David W. Olive
president, Bluefield College