‘Envision’-ing a new future in Bluefield
In July 2019, the Town of Bluefield’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) bought an empty building in the heart of its idyllic Southwest Virginia downtown.
The vision: Turn the 5,400-square-foot commercial building — once home to a carpet store, dance theater, fitness center, and medical equipment company — into a small business and retail incubator to accelerate business growth.
Bluefield, a community of 5,400 in Tazewell County, has put a focus on sparking new ventures and diversifying its economy as the coal industry declines and the region continues to build new revenue streams in the wake of decades of manufacturing losses.
That vision is becoming reality, even amid pandemic times. The building, called Envision Center of Bluefield, has three primary objectives:
- Advance the town’s goal of increasing middle-wage jobs through economic growth
- Promote small business and workforce development growth in Southwestern Virginia
- Help companies establish and become permanent contributors to overall vitality, diversity, and growth of the region’s economy
The Envision Center is posed to be at the heart of the town’s revitalization and continued growth.
While we help small businesses and real estate developers secure loans, one of the more unique partnerships we maintain are those with economic development authorities (EDAs) and industrial development authorities (IDAs), non-profit entities charged with fostering employment and growing its locality’s tax base by recruiting new businesses — both local and those from outside the area. As they are in competition with other towns and states, local economic incentives, paired with a nicely structured loan package, can help the IDAs recruit and retain companies.
Typically, the IDA serves as the borrower for the project, helping finance property improvements but also equipment, working capital, or real estate. To strengthen the deal, the locality serves as a guarantor on the loan. These loans are approved through a resolution by the respective city council or county board of supervisors.
VCC provided a $170,000 loan to the Bluefield IDA to fund property improvements to the Envision Center building. The IDA will repay the loan with the lease income from small business tenants.
A business space like this has been missing from the downtown footprint. Local businesses are excited to move in. The Grind Coffee Shop, winner of the 2020 Tazewell County Business Challenge that January (a Challenge sponsored by VCC along with regional partners) will be its first tenant.
Like many other businesses, the Grind pivoted fast when COVID hit, buying a food truck and whipping out bagel sandwiches for breakfast and lunch while amassing a considerable social media following. Building upon this success, the owners knew a dedicated space would be critical to its sustainability. The Grind team spent the latter part of 2020 building out its space with the help of the IDA loan. They are also creating custom tables, fabricated by local woodworkers for the new hangout spot — one example of the ripple effect community investments can have in a community. The modest loan from VCC meant the IDA could move forward with the renovations in 2020, ultimately providing more resources for their small business community.
The Envision Center is posed to be ready by the end of January. The Grind and AXtoGrind – an exciting venue offering four lanes for axe throwing entertainment – will be ready to go. IDA is in discussions with a hair salon, also operating a beauty school, to be the tenant in the third third space. Lease revenues should generate around $26,000 a year once fully leased.
The United Nations created 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to eradicate poverty and deprivation, grow our economies, protect our environment, and promote peace and good governance. These SDGs best align with VCC, and our mission to positively impact communities.
The Bluefield Envision Center aligns with SDGs 8 and 11.