The Trump Administration recently announced the award of $239,000 in grants to Mercer County that will assist with a couple of key economic development projects for the region, including a proposed intermodal port along the Norfolk Southern Railway and an Agri-Center master plan for the Exit 1 area of Bluefield.

The grant funding is coming from the United States Department of Agriculture and is designed to assist with the development and expansion of small and emerging private businesses and community facilities, according to West Virginia State Director of USDA Rural Development Kris Warner.

Warner said projects approved for USDA grant funding include: 

• A $50,000 rural business development grant to the Development Authority of Mercer County to assist with the planning and implementation of the Mercer County Agri-Center Master Plan, an initiative envisioned for Exit 1 in Bluefield that has the potential to create upwards of 170 new jobs. John O’Neal, development authority director for Mercer County, said the goal of the project is to attract businesses that would be related to the agri business world.

 • A $44,000 rural business development grant to conduct a feasibility study for a planned intermodal port along the Norfolk Southern Railway in Bluefield. City officials in Bluefield have dubbed this economic development initiative as “Project Game Changer” due to the number of jobs and economic development opportunities it would create for the region if the project comes to fruition. The proposed development would serve as a hub that would allow customers to transfer a large array of commodities between rail cars and trucks in Bluefield. Those goods could then be either loaded or unloaded and transported by either train or truck.

• A $45,000 rural business development grant for a feasibility study of an underutilized Appalachian hardwood species commonly known as the cucumber tree. The goal of the feasibility and marketing study is to increase the wood’s value for landowners, loggers and secondary manufacturing.

 • A $50,000 community facilities grant to purchase four new all-wheel-drive police vehicles in the city of Bluefield.

• A $50,000 community facilities grant to purchase a new street sweeper for the city of Princeton.

These funding awards are welcomed, and will help to launch two economic development projects of particular importance to our region, the intermodal port for Bluefield and the Agri-Center initiative for Exit 1, also in Bluefield.

It is our hope that both of these two key economic development projects can become a reality for our region. The USDA funding awards are an important first step for both initiatives.

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