City officials in Bluefield have been quietly working over the past couple of years on an economic development vision that has been dubbed “Project Game Changer.” As its name implies, the project would create jobs and new economic development opportunities for the region if it comes to fruition.

With help from a $44,000 funding award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the city will soon be embarking on a feasibility study on a Thoroughbred Bulk Transportation (TBT) facility. The proposed development would serve as a hub that would allow customers to transfer a large array of commodities between rail cars and trucks. Those goods could then be either loaded or unloaded and transported by either train or truck.

Given Bluefield’s strategic location, rail capacity and proximity to three major interstates, the project has the potential to create between 800 to 6,000 jobs, depending upon market demand and growth, according to City Manager Dane Rideout.

Jim Spencer, the city’s director of economic and community development, said the feasibility study will help determine how much demand is in place now for the facility and the future potential.

Bluefield is an ideal location for such a project because trains are required to stop to refuel, change over crews and disconnect so-called pusher trains at the Norfolk Southern railyard in Bluefield. The city also is located at the crossroads of Norfolk Southern’s Heartland and Crescent Corridor, with the Heartland Corridor serving as a main container rail route from the Port of Virginia to the Midwest markets, including Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati.

The Crescent Corridor is a major rail link between the northeastern and southeastern United States, linking major markets including New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans and Memphis. The city also has interstate highway access to I-77 and the future I-73/I-74 and is within 25 miles from I-81 and 40 miles from I-64.

A TBT center also would help regional businesses in mining, chemical or wood industries to reach domestic and international markets via Dallas, Chicago and the Port of Virginia, and offer the potential to be further developed into a future inland port.

Rideout and Spencer also point to a recent economic impact study conducted by the Chmura Economic and Analytics Group, which found that such a facility would not only bring jobs, but also serve as a catalyst to attract other businesses, especially those in the logistics industry such as trucking and warehousing. The study also concluded that manufacturing and retail businesses tend to locate close to these facilities to improve their supply-chain efficiency.

The hub bulk transportation center vision for Bluefield does, indeed, have the potential to be a game changer for the region.

The start of the feasibility study is a necessary first step in the pursuit of this potential project.

While we realize that not every study yields an actual project, we are hopeful that years of planning and preparation by the city will put Bluefield in a better position to realize the proposed Thoroughbred Bulk Transportation facility project.

It is an economic development vision certainly worthy of pursuit.

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