Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 15, 2012

Tazewell Dental School pulls in new growth

SPRINGVILLE, Va. — Bringing more dentists into the region and fueling economic growth are two goals behind a drive to establish a new dental school at the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park.

A memorandum of understanding was signed Friday during an outdoor ceremony on the future school’s site at The Bluestone. Bluefield College, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, and the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority are collaborating on the project.

The new school, which could start enrolling student by the fall of 2015, will help address the growing shortage of dentists in Appalachia, said Dr. David Olive, president of Bluefield College.

“Dentists and professional dental care are limited in Central Appalachia, but this new dental school will address that problem and begin to fill our understaffed clinics with the personnel needed to provide rural residents with sufficient oral care,” Olive said.

One goal of the school is to have third- and fourth-year students work in rural clinics to help provide dental care in under-served areas, Olive said.

Bringing an entity like the dental school into The Bluestone will help boost the economy both in Tazewell County and the surrounding region, said Tazewell Administrator Jim Spencer.

“As I’ve said many times, the education-lead economic development is powerful,” Spencer said. He compared the potential to the economic growth seen around the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va.

“You can see what has happened around that campus, and we can replicate that same model here with a partnership we’ve established with Bluefield College,” Spencer said. He outlined some of The Bluestone’s history for the audience.

“We purchased this land in about 2004 and we were looking at studies for an industrial site in Tazewell County. There really wasn’t any property left. If a company called and said, ‘Jim, we need 25 acres,’ we really didn’t have anything. We looked at where we should develop a regional industrial park. We settled on this site and we purchased it,” he said.

After a new park with a campus theme was planned, planners, including the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority, the county board of supervisors and Bluefield College, sought funding. The Hugh I. Shott Jr. Foundation provided the first grant, and that helped organizers find millions of grant dollars, Spencer said.

“Of every dollar spent here thus far, 77 percent of it has been grant money, and I think that’s outstanding,” Spencer said. “Our goal is to do economic development, but keep the cost down for the taxpayer.”

Spencer emphasized that the dental school is not the only entity that will be going into The Bluestone complex.

“The county’s going to continue being aggressive when it comes to marketing The Bluestone. This is a great announcement, but we’re not done,” he said.

Locating the dental school in Tazewell County helps the county’s economy get into the health care arena, said Mike Hymes, chairman of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.

“We know that health care is one of the fastest-growing areas, and it’s predicted to be one of the fastest-growing areas for the next 10 to 20 years as the baby boomers age,” he said. “Without this space, this memorandum of understanding, or Bluefield College, we could not get into that industry, and that’s one we need to be active in. The impact of the school will be significant. It will provide new employment diversification for our area. You need only to visit a town that has a health care type or education facility to see how it stabilizes your economy, and it brings other opportunities into the community. It brings jobs of different types, so this is what it’s all about. It’s an economic-stabilization package.”

Doyle Rasnick, chairman of the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority, thanked the members of the Authority for their work on making the dental school project a reality.

“We have been at this a long time,” he said. “This project has been a long time in coming.” He looked to his fellow members. “This is a wonderful group to work with, and they’ve never been anything but positive.”

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