Strategic partners meet in Bluefield to discuss opportunity
The station is a facet of the city’s CREATE (Creating Resilient Economies by Assisting Transforming Entrepreneurs) Opportunity initiative, bringing in a network of strategic partners working together to create jobs and boost the economy.
Bluefield Mayor Ron Martin welcomed and praised the partners, calling it a “team effort” to bring economic development to the area.
Martin also introduced Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), the keynote speaker for the summit.
“He has supported this Commercialization Station from the very beginning,” Martin said. “He is one of the best friends Bluefield has ever had.”
Jenkins visited the city a year ago to announce a more than $2 million federal grant for the station, as well as $510,000 from the Shott Foundation.
“The Commercialization Station … is all about growing the economy,” he said.
Money from the grant will be used to renovate the facility which is a business incubator focusing on manufacturing and entrepreneurship and is located in the old freight station on Bluefield Avenue.
Jenkins said money is essential to creating these initiatives, and he will continue working to bring it in from the federal level. That grant for the station was from the Economic Development Administration (EDA).
“Developing entrepreneurial skills is a great idea,” he said, adding that dollars pulled from the federal agencies have a great impact.
“We are going to keep working tooth and nail to bring that funding, and we are going to work tooth and nail to get the (federal) policies right so we can create a job environment,” he said.
Jenkins said the recent rejection of a proposed enhancement of federal environmental regulations has already affected the coal industry.
“When you get the regulatory foot off the growth of coal, you can see it moving again,” he said.
Jenkins said coal is making a comeback, but it’s too early to predict how extensive that will be or how long it will last.
The effort to create jobs is paramount and ongoing, he said, and that is what programs like CREATE Opportunity are all about.
“My mantra is that good jobs solve a lot of problems,” he said.
Jenkins said every time he comes to Bluefield he sees a group of government, business and education leaders who are “committed and passionate about creating opportunity.”
“I have simply been a partner with you these last two years,” he added.
He called the local effort an “investment in leadership” and praised Bluefield State College for its work and vision.
“I am always inspired when I go to Bluefield State College,” he said, calling its work in technology “cutting edge,” and pointing out the accomplishments in robotics. “This is a partnership and … you have always been supporting the Commercialization Station and (economic development) efforts.”
Jenkins said starting new businesses is crucial to growth.
“Small business is big business,” he said. “When we have entrepreneurial efforts and federal dollars to invest in this community, we really do have a bright future ahead. I see a lot of positive things.”
Jim Spencer, Bluefield’s economic development director and leader of the Commercialization Station effort, introduced the many partners involved in the station effort, including area colleges, several state organizations and other groups.
Spencer told the partners that other than a few engineering “tweaks” the design work at the station was complete and should soon receive approval from the federal Economic Development Authority (EDA) so work can start.
“We want to get it right the first time,” he said of the renovations, which include electrical, lighting and other needed upgrades to the 60,000-sq.-ft. facility.
Spencer said organizations, like states, often act independently of each other but in order to create an opportunity initiative he wanted to reach out and bring in partners.
“We are all pieces of a puzzle,” he said, pointing out that by working together, resources can be pooled to provide what entrepreneurs need.
Spencer described business incubation as being like training wheels on a bicycle, providing a way to allow entrepreneurs to get their business idea from a mere concept to actually working.
But partners are needed to provide those training wheels.
“We have brought in partners from all over the state,” he said.
Anne Barth, with TechConnect WV, is one of those partners.
She told the group that through federal funding for the organization, resources are available.
“We will be offering technical assistance,” she said, adding that she works with centers of excellence, like CART (Center for Applied Research and Training) in Bluefield, to provide the help to get a business started or to expand an existing business, and at no charge.
“We work with incubators,” she said, and the purpose is linking them to needed resources that offer the “best practices” training they need.
They can also help finding startup capital, she added.
Bruce Mutter, director of CART, also spoke.
“We bring ingenuity to industry,” he said of CART’s purpose.
Mutter said he has been working with Barth for several years and has always asked the question of how to assist technology entrepreneurs.
With CART, which recently received a $750,000 grant to help with training and programs at the station, comes assistance in many areas in technology, he said, from a drawing to prototypes to circuit boards.
“I am proud to be a part of a team with everyone in this room,” he said.
Several other representatives of partners also spoke before Spencer gave each table an assignment of answering several questions aimed at how to go forward more effectively.
Those questions included identifying any obstacles, finding entrepreneurs suited to the station, pinpointing any resources/services they may need not already available and working together better.
Partners at each table brainstormed each question and then later presented suggestions or needs.
Those included the importance of making sure broadband service is available, coming up with a “sector” name (as in Silicon Valley, for example), helping entrepreneurs find their target markets, establishing a “senior zone” of experienced mentors, communicating with all levels of industry and “stepping outside the box” to take a more regional approach to entrepreneurship.
“It’s all about connections and information,” Spencer said, including having the information and resources ready for an entrepreneur and solving peoples’ problem regarding obtaining needed money for startups.
Spencer also said the city will start distributing a CREATE Opportunity newsletter, which will include input from the group.
“We are going to have better communication,” he said.
Others attending the summit included State Sen. Chandler Swope, Del. John Shott, BSC President Dr. Marsha Krotseng, Bluefield City Manager Dane Rideout and city board members Robb Williams and Barbara Thompson-Smith.
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org.