March 6, 2013
Editorials, Virginia, West Virginia

Development director — Action needed in Bluefield

Bluefield Daily Telegraph | March 6, 2013 |

With city elections approaching this spring, the five elected members of the Bluefield Board of Directors are running out of time to address a number of pressing concerns.

For starters, the old Kroger building is still empty, and city officials have apparently been unsuccessful to date in engaging in meaningful negotiations with K.V.A.T. Food Stores Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Smith. The longer the building stays vacant, and city residents go without a new grocery store, the more difficult the challenge becomes. Furthermore, the city’s economic development director post is vacant once again, and a team of volunteers have taken up the charge of promoting economic development, downtown revitalization and recreation initiatives across the city.

However, such volunteers are limited in their ability and resources. And, at the end of the day, there has to be a leader – or a group of leaders – who are charged with green-lighting projects and making regular contact with prospective businesses and industries. And don’t forget about having someone who meets with existing businesses on a regular basis to see what their needs are and how the city can help.

The city also is still lacking the millions in additional federal funds needed to construct the proposed Colonial Intermodal Center project.

We are also concerned about communications between the city, and its neighbors. For example, the volunteer Team Blue members are advocating a plan that seeks to recruit wind energy companies into the city limits of Bluefield. They say they are not endorsing a wind turbine farm for Bluefield, but are instead seeking to recruit companies that service the wind industry into the city limits.

But neighboring Bluefield, Va., has passed an ordinance prohibiting the development of wind turbines in its municipal limits, and the ridge-line protection ordinance adopted by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors in 2009 still prohibits the development of wind energy farms along the Virginia-side of East River Mountain. So it would appear that the two Bluefields may not be on the same page when it comes to wind energy. Both boards should sit down in a public forum and meet on this topic while also actively soliciting input from their citizens. It would be prudent for city officials not to forget the ugly wind turbine battle that ensued in Tazewell County in 2009 and 2010.

But the biggest decision to be made is whether or not to hire a new economic development director for the city. The easiest thing for the current board to do is to sit back and wait until after the election, and leave this decision up to the next elected board. But action is needed. The current board should decide now whether it is going to hire a new development director. If not, a public meeting should be scheduled as soon as possible between city officials and Mercer County Development Authority Director Janet Bailey to chart an immediate course for not only implementing some of the good ideas in the Blue Momentum plan, but also to demand aggressive marketing of the city to prospective industries and businesses by the county’s development authority and its director. The Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce and the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau should also be a part of such an economic development planning meeting.

There are good things happening in Bluefield. The small business growth that we’ve seen in parts of the downtown, Bluefield Avenue and Cumberland Road areas are important, and must continue. The new dialysis center under construction on Bluefield Avenue is also a significant new addition. But the momentum must continue.

Time is no longer a luxury for the five elected board members. Their terms will be expiring soon. They can choose to sit back and do nothing, or get to work now on addressing the aforementioned problems and others in an aggressive matter.

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