By CHARLIE BOOTHE Bluefield Daily Telegraph 25 March 2018
After almost a year and a half of working on the nuts and bolts of making a project happen, the renovation work at the city of Buefield’s Commercialization Station is finally ready to go out for bids. More than $2.5 million has been earmarked for the station, with about $2.1 million from the federal EDA (Economic Development Administration) and $510,000 from the Shott Foundation.
The announcement for these grants was made in October 2016 as the station was getting off the ground.
Located in the old freight station on Bluefield Avenue, it is designed to be a business incubator focusing on manufacturing and entrepreneurship.
Of course, as we all know, the wheels of government move slowly, and after the announcement was made the process began of seeing the plans come to fruition. That process included many hoops to jump through related to the EDA, including the approval of final engineering reports, which is a steep hill to climb.
But it’s finally done, with everything in place to allow companies to bid on the work at the 60,000-square-foot facility, which includes electrical upgrades, new lighting, doors and windows, among other improvements. Bids are due May 2.
Jim Spencer, the city’s economic development director and the force behind the station, has asked city board of director members to place the renovation work as an action item on each meeting starting in May. That is necessary because deadlines for approvals must be met as things surface during construction.
Economic development is a far cry from what it used to be, and the city as well as the region are making adjustments. No longer can anyone depend on a coal boom.
The economy had to diversify and that is what is happening.
We all know the impact that tourism is having related to the popular ATV trails in the area and other initiatives planned to make this area a destination. But it takes more than that, and Spencer and the city are focusing on building businesses from the ground up with entrepreneurship.
That is precisely what the Commercialization Station is all about and those who take advantage of it will have plenty of help. The city has many partners that are ready and willing to help entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground, and do it in the station.
In fact, another EDA grant for $750,000 was announced in October 2017 for the Center for Applied Research and Technology (CART) Inc., a Bluefield-based partner with the city on the station. “This will be almost like phase two of the project,” Spencer said of what the grant money will do. “CART will develop programs (for the station) that create jobs.”
Bruce Mutter, CEO of CART, said the purpose of the project is to provide technical assistance and related support services to technology-based small businesses and entrepreneurs.
We are excited about this project and look forward to seeing the old freight station becoming an integral part of the city and of economic development. We are also pleased to see the city place an emphasis on entrepreneurship, which allows local talent to surface and thrive. The station will provide what they need to do that.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com
By CHARLIE BOOTHE Bluefield Daily Telegraph Dec 9, 2017
BLUEFIELD — A grant from Appalachian Power Company is helping spur a move to create economic development around Exit 1 on Interstate 77 in Bluefield.
The grant of $12,500 to the City of Bluefield is “to support development of a comprehensive master plan for an 80-acre, city-owned business park,” the company said.
“We own a little more than 80 acres at Exit 1,” said Jim Spencer, the city’s economic development director. “Not all of it is developable, though.”
How big the business park can be has not yet been determined.
The city purchased and annexed the land, which is on John Nash Boulevard around the Bluefield Area Transit (BAT) headquarters, and has been exploring ways to maximize its potential.
“A master plan will look at road access, infrastructure and pad development,” he said. “That will determine how much of that land can be developed.”
Spencer said he applied for the grant as part of leveraging another grant from the Shott Foundation.
“It is matched with money from the Shott Foundation,” he said. “They had previously given us some money (for the master plan).”
Before any development can be done, the plan has to be completed.
“This will give us hard data to use in the plans around Exit 1,” he said. “This is seed money to help us plan for first-class development.”
Spencer said work on the plan should begin early next year.
Exit 1 has been the focus of the city for some time because of its potential for commercial development, but the terrain has always been a challenge, he said, adding that the master plan will help lay the foundation for appropriate growth.
The city is also promoting a plan to use the former Consol building nearby on John Nash Boulevard for a Veterans Administration clinic.
The one in Princeton is too small and the VA is searching for a new location.
The clinic, which is part of the Beckley VA Medical Center, is in a facility on North Walker Street that limits the services that can be offered.City Manager Dane Rideout said recently the Consol building would work well for a VA clinic.
“We wanted to be part of the discussion,” he said of the search for a new location for the clinic. “It (the current VA clinic site) is under staffed and crammed into a very small space.”
Rideout said the Consol building is very close to Exit 1, the BAT and convenient to Bluefield Regional Medical Center.
Having the BAT close by is a big asset, he said, because it provides the transportation needed from all around the county and into McDowell County.
The decision on where to locate the facility is in the hands of the federal VA, he added.
Appalachian Power also approved a grant for $12,500 to the Mercer County Economic Development Authority to enhance and redesign its website.
“Our website is around 10 years old,” said Janet Bailey, Mercer County’s economic development director. “It’s in dire need of updating and revising. This $12,500 will help us accomplish that.”
Bailey said the website will be more user friendly and allow anyone to access it using their mobile apps.
“We want to attract industry, but we want to attract people too,” she said. “It will have a total new look.”
The new website should be completed in about six months, she said. “We are really grateful to Appalachian Power.”
Spencer also expressed gratitude, and said a grant from Appalachian Power helped with the city’s website, mybluefield.org, as well as the Commercialization Station, which has gone on to receive more than $2.5 million in grant money.
The grants target communities affected by a downturn in the coal industry and are part of ongoing efforts to promote economic growth in the company’s service territory.
Eight organizations will receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 through the company’s Economic Development Growth Enhancement (EDGE) program administered by John Smolak, economic and business development director. The funds may be used for site development or to support marketing and promotion, or new business development and retention.
Appalachian Power distributes EDGE grants on an annual basis. The company will award $91,000 in EDGE grants to nonprofits and localities this year.
“Appalachian Power is proud to partner with our local, regional and state organizations on outstanding economic development projects in Virginia and West Virginia,” Smolak said. “The EDGE Grant’s focus is to help prepare our communities for new job growth and investment opportunities and we want to help them succeed.”
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Charlie Boothe Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Oct 20, 2017
BLUEFIELD — Partners in the City of Bluefield’s Commercialization Station project met for a summit Thursday afternoon at the Bluefield Arts Center.
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 email@example.com.
Development will boost public transportation
BDT Editorial, October 15, 2017
With federal funding now in place, and local matching funds coming from the Shott Foundation, work is expected to begin soon on a $1 million state-of-the-art public transportation transfer facility in Bluefield. It’s a welcomed project that should help in meeting the region’s public transportation needs.
The transfer center, which is planned near the Wade Center on Bluefield Avenue, will serve as a central location for the Bluefield Area Transit, the Graham Transit and the Greyhound system. The transfer station project was inspired by the former Colonial Intermodal Center vision for Bluefield, according to City Manager Dane Rideout.
“Not as grand a scale, but it will meet all the same intents,” Rideout said, adding that the project would serve as a location where passengers and drivers could stop and use the facilities.
“A place where people could change over bus systems, get out of the elements, have bathrooms, a clean, safe, well-lit environment,” Rideout said in describing the project. “We wanted a place that was heated and had good lighting. We went after a grant, the federal government loves it. We are going to build a new state-of-the-art transfer facility for public transportation on the avenue. And the awesome thing about it is, as we received grant monies, we’re going to build a million-dollar facility and it’s going to cost the taxpayers little to nothing.”
According to Rideout, the new facility will be approximately 30 feet wide and 60 feet long, and will be located on a 175-foot by 150-foot lot owned by the city of Bluefield. It will be constructed with a pre-engineered steel building frame, standing seam metal roof panels, and metal panel, masonry, and glass exterior storefront curtain walls placed on a concrete slab-on-grade foundation.
The former Colonial Intermodal Center project, proposed by a previous board seven years ago, also would have served as a transfer station site for public transportation, but also proposed the development of related pods or sites for potential businesses.
Former Congressman Nick Rahall secured $600,000 in federal funds for preliminary design work for that project.
But the price tag of the Colonial Intermodal Center exceeded $10 million, and city officials were never able to secure all of the remaining funding necessary for the project, which was later discontinued.
The new project is smaller in scale, but certainly needed. It will also help in accommodating future growth for the Bluefield Area Transit, along with the Greyhound and Graham Transit systems.
The transfer center also will be beneficial in getting passengers out of the elements, particularly during periods of inclement weather such as snow and rain, and inside a warm and secure facility.
We welcome this needed project, and eagerly anticipate the start of construction.
By Charlie Boothe Bluefield Daily Telegraph, 12 October 2017
BLUEFIELD — The future of Bluefield’s Commercialization Station received a boost Wednesday with the announcement of a $750,000 federal grant to help create jobs and programs at the facility.
The funding is from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and will go to the Center for Applied Research and Technology (CART) Inc., a Bluefield-based partner with the city on the station.
Located on Bluefield Avenue in the former freight building, the Commercialization Station provides an incubator for business start-ups focusing on manufacturing.
“This will be almost like phase two of the project,” said Jim Spencer, Bluefield’s economic development director who spearheaded the station. “CART will develop programs (for the station) that create jobs.”
Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), who worked to secure the funding, said CART will use the Bluefield Commercialization Station to help provide industrial technical services and help support a business incubator. This project will support local entrepreneurs and small businesses while creating much-needed jobs, he added.
According to the EDA, this grant will create 36 jobs, save another 36 jobs, and attract $250,000 in private investment.
“Diversifying our economy is critical, and this grant will help us support West Virginians starting small businesses and creating much-needed jobs,” Jenkins said. “West Virginians are ready and eager to work, and this project will help our entrepreneurs succeed. I congratulate the Center for Applied Research and Technology for receiving the grant and look forward to seeing these funds at work.”
The announcement of that and other EDA grants was made in Elkins.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) was on hand at the event.
“Improving our economy starts by revitalizing our communities and creating job opportunities for West Virginians. That’s because economic growth starts at the local level. For several years, I have urged EDA to renew its focus and invest in West Virginia,” said Capito. “Whether its manufacturing, entrepreneurship or tourism, vibrant local communities are vital to the strength of our state’s economy. These public-private partnerships will fuel growth, and make West Virginia the best place to live and work.”
Bruce Mutter, CEO of CART, also attended the event.
“CART was excited to learn that our project for assisting technology entrepreneurs in southern West Virginia was approved for funding by the EDA.”, he said. “The purpose of the project is to provide technical assistance and related support services to technology-based small businesses and entrepreneurs.”
Mutter said these companies will “develop their products, service ideas, and research interests into marketable new enterprises in our region, which of course has been negatively affected by changes in the coal economy.”
Jenkins visited the station last fall to announce a $2 million grant and a $510,000 matching grant from the Shott Foundation to renovate the building, which also served for years as the headquarters for the Bluefield Area Transit.
Spencer said all of the preliminary work, including final engineering work, has been completed and presented to the EDA for approval.
Work will include electrical upgrades, new lighting, doors and windows, among other improvements in the 60,000-sq.-ft. facility.
Spencer said other partners involved in the station include Bluefield State College, TechConnect West Virginia, Concord University, American National University, AEP, Mercer County Technical Education Center, the Development Authority of the Great Bluefield Area and the Robert C. Byrd Institute.
U.S. Department of Commerce Invests $30 Million to Assist America’s Coal Communities
Contact: EDA Public Affairs Department, (202) 482-4085
October 11, 2017
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that the Department's Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding $30 million to support 35 projects in 15 states under the 2017 Assistance to Coal Communities (ACC 2017) initiative. The funding will assist locally-driven efforts to communities and regions severely impacted by the declining use of coal through activities and programs that support economic diversification, job creation, capital investment, workforce development and re-employment opportunities.
"From his first days in office, President Trump ended the Federal government's assault on the coal industry and the communities who rely on it," said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. "The previous administration fought this war through unilateral executive actions and regulatory edicts, and the casualties were American workers and families."
The President's work has had tangible effects for millions of Americans; for the first time in six years a new coal mine opened in the United States in June while thousands of jobs have been added in the coal sector since the start of 2017. The funding announced today is one facet of a continuing, government-wide effort to deliver a better deal for coal country.
The investments to be made in WV announced today include:
About the U.S. Economic Development Administration (www.eda.gov)
The mission of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation's regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA makes investments in economically distressed communities in order to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.
Contact: EDA Public Affairs Department, (202) 482-4085
EDA to expand presence in West Virginia and invest in additional projects aimed at revitalizing communities, increasing economic opportunity
RANDOLPH COUNTY, W.Va. – U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) today joined Economic Development Administration (EDA) Acting Head Dennis Alvord, as well as local business and development leaders, to make several major economic development announcements.
Senator Capito first announced a $2.5 million grant from EDA that will support the expansion of Armstrong Flooring, a manufacturing facility located in Beverly, West Virginia. As Randolph County’s largest manufacturing employer, this investment is expected to create 50 new jobs, retain 60 existing jobs, and generate approximately $16.2 million in private investment.
The Armstrong visit was followed by a trip to the Wood Technology Center in Elkins, West Virginia, where Senator Capito joined EDA officials, local leaders and grant awardees to announce an additional $8.235 million in funding from EDA. These grant awards will support state-wide projects furthering manufacturing, entrepreneurship, infrastructure and planning.
“Improving our economy starts by revitalizing our communities and creating job opportunities for West Virginians. That’s because economic growth starts at the local level. For several years, I have urged EDA to renew its focus and invest in West Virginia,” said Senator Capito. “Whether its manufacturing, entrepreneurship or tourism, vibrant local communities are vital to the strength of our state’s economy. These public-private partnerships will fuel growth, and make West Virginia the best place to live and work.”
Since 2015, Senator Capito has worked with EDA to educate the agency about West Virginia news and encourage more investment in the state. As a result of these efforts, EDA has since hired a state representative for West Virginia to help structure projects. From 2015 to 2017, EDA has invested more than $21 million in West Virginia. These investments are expected to create 1,429 jobs and retain 1,147 jobs, impacting nearly every county in the state.
In an op-ed for The Inter-Mountain released today, Senator Capito discusses the value of this partnership with EDA, specifically citing the Armstrong Flooring investment. Read the op-ed here.
Individual awards are listed below:
By BLAKE STOWERS Bluefield Daily Telegraph Oct 11, 2017
BLUEFIELD — Officials are working on the preliminary plans for a $1 million state of the art transfer facility to be used by multiple transportation agencies within the city of Bluefield.
According to City Manager Dane Rideout, the new facility will be built in the area beside the Wade Center on Bluefield Avenue.
“We’ve received a grant from the Shott Foundation that has allowed us to do a matching grant with the federal government,” Rideout said.
Rideout said officials wanted a central place inside the city where Greyhound, Bluefield Area Transit, and Graham Transit could all use the facility.
“A place where the drivers could stop and use the facilities,” Rideout said. “A place where people could change over bus systems, get out of the elements, have bathrooms, a clean safe, well lit environment. We wanted a place that was heated and had good lighting. We went after a grant, the federal government loves it. We’re going to build a new state of the art transfer facility for public transportation on the avenue. And the awesome thing about it is, as we received grant monies, we’re going to build a million dollar facility, and it’s going to cost the tax payers, little to nothing.”
According to Rideout the former Bluefield Intermodal Center idea, sparked the idea behind this facility. “Not as grand a scale, but it will meet all the same intents,” Rideout said.
Rideout said the city will do stormwater work on the project. “We’ll do some stormwater work, again vision,” Rideout said. “You have a Bluefield Area Transit Director that saw a need, and went after other people’s monies if you will, that’s going to provide an amenity and an area for our residents to improve the area in which we’re living. Fix the storm water and then put a state of the art facility. The hold up was waiting for the federal government’s fiscal year to start. Their fiscal year runs Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. We have our matching monies from the Shott Foundation. Federal governments now working through it.”
On Tuesday, the Bluefield City Board approved $11,000 to be used for the Applied Research and Technology (CART) Proposal Phase II. “Today’s piece is moving that forward,” Rideout said. “This is the premilary engineering report that’s part of the product that goes through so the federal government can start getting bids from contractors and stuff like that. It was part of the grant monies.”
According to Rideout, the new facility will be approximately 30 feet wide and 60 feet long, located on a 175 feet by 150 feet lot owned by the City of Bluefield.
“And will include a passenger waiting room, restrooms, a driver break room, and covered passenger loading and unloading areas,” Rideout said. “The facility is designed to accommodate for future growth of the Bluefield Area Transit. The building will be constructed with a pre-engineered steel building frame, standing seam metal roof panels, and metal panel, masonry, and glass exterior storefront curtain walls placed on a concrete slab-on-grade foundation. The building will be used as a transfer point for the Bluefield Area Transit buses. The expected method of procurement will be made possible through grant funding, local matching funds, and in-kind contributions.”
Contact: BLAKE STOWERS Bluefield Daily Telegraph Oct 11, 2017
By CHARLES BOOTHE Bluefield Daily Telegraph, 22 May 2017
BLUEFIELD — Plans are on track to soon start renovation work on the commercialization station in Bluefield, and the city is busy working to recruit tenants.
“We met with the engineering folks (recently) and we are about 90 percent done on the plan (for the renovations),” said Jim Spencer, economic development director for the city. “We will submit the final plans to the EDA (federal Economic Development Administration) in June for approval.”
The EDA grant for the project is just over $2 million with $510,000 from the Shott Foundation.
Spencer said work will include electrical upgrades, new lighting, doors and windows, among other upgrades.
The station is located in the old freight station on Bluefield Avenue and the grants were announced in October 2016.
Once final plans for the renovation are approved, work can start, he said.
“We have to submit the plans to them (the EDA) and then (once approved) the work can go out to bid,” Spencer said.
The money for the project is ready to be used, he added, and the city is busy making plans for the station’s future.
“We continue to market the facility and we are talking to a couple of potential tenants,” he said. “We are also continuing to finalize our operational policies and procedures to operate the incubator.”
The city has already been offering classes for entrepreneurs as part of its CREATE (Creating Resilient Economies by Assisting Transforming Entrepreneurs) Opportunities Initiative and continues to do so, he said, with a class on copyright rights set for June 13.
Spencer said in October when the grants were announced that many partners are involved in helping not only bring the station to fruition, but to provide the resources necessary to make it work.
Those partners include the Center for Applied Research & Technology (CART), Bluefield State College, TechConnect West Virginia, Concord University, American National University, AEP, Mercer County Technical Education Center, the Development Authority of the Great Bluefield Area, the Robert C. Byrd Institute, E.L. Robinson Engineering and others.
“It’s all of us working together,” he said. “It’s a manufacturing and technology center,” with the overall purpose of moving ideas and innovations into the marketplace.
One start-up business, Autonomous Radio Controlled Equipment, is already operational inside of the center.
Spencer said when the renovations are finished, other businesses will hopefully be ready to move in.
By CHARLES BOOTHE Bluefield Daily Telegraph, May 22, 2017
CART Assisted, Client Wins! WVU student teams win big at 2017 WV Collegiate Business Plan Competition
West Virginia University students will have the opportunity to foster entrepreneurship in the state, after bringing home the top spots in all three categories at the 2017 West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Competition on April 21.
Winners of the 11th annual competition are Keith Heisler, a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, majoring in aerospace engineering in the WVU Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources with his business, H2OLD IT; Matthew Byrd, a native of Ritchie County, and a wildlife and fisheries resources sophomore in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, with his business, Byrds and Bees Honey; and Brandon Lucke-Wold from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Zachary Wright from Bridgeport, dual M.D./Ph.D. students in the WVU School of Medicine with their business, SwifTag Systems.
The three winning teams were announced following three rounds of competition that spanned the entire academic year. A record 303 entries were submitted in this year’s West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition from a record-tying 15 West Virginia colleges and universities. The competition is hosted by the WVU BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“This was a record year for the business plan competition. As the judges deliberated, it was apparent that the decision-making was incredibly challenging because of the quality of business concepts and plans presented,” Julia Bolt, assistant director of the BrickStreet Center, which is housed in the WVU College of Business and Economics said. “The final round was another step for each of these teams toward the success of their viable businesses. We want them to know we are here to support not only the winners, but all participants in the competition as they grow the business landscape of our state.”
A panel of judges from across the country heard presentations from five competing teams in each of three categories. The categories include Lifestyle and Innovation, Hospitality and Tourism, and STEM.
Heisler claimed the victory in the Lifestyle and Innovation category with H2OLD IT, which provides innovative luxury products for living environments. The products provide comfort while also conserving natural resources and providing financial savings.
Byrd, who also made it to the final round of the competition in 2016, won the Hospitality and Tourism category with Byrds and Bees Honey. It is focused on producing high quality, great tasting, small-batch honey in West Virginia. Through ethical beekeeping practices, the company is committed to not only supplying quality honey, but also helping the declining bee population.
Lucke-Wold and Wright, with SwifTag Systems, won the STEM division of the competition. SwifTag Systems is the leader in laboratory animal tagging, tracking, and inventory. Using custom designed RFID technology, SwifTag has revolutionized how laboratory animals are tagged and tracked for pharmaceutical experiments. The system can save companies money each year by reducing paid man hours required for tagging and inventory of animals and eliminates errors in choosing the wrong animal for experiments.
“I wanted to solve a problem that happens in everyday life. I knew I could find a solution. People expend a lot of water resources waiting for their shower to warm up, so I created a product that redirects that cold water to be recycled. You don’t have to wait for your shower to warm up, and plus you’re saving energy and valuable resources,” Heisler said. “With the competition being over, I’m at the bottom of the hill now. It’s time to get out there, start the LLC and begin small-batch manufacturing to sell my product.”
“I made it to the finals as a freshman, and I knew I could do better, so I entered again this year. This year, I focused more on my financials and marketing, which was a lacking component from last year. I spent more time with the numbers, figuring out how many more hives I could have with the acreage I own and what the nectar sources were,” Byrd said. “I also focused on helping the declining bee population by increasing the hives I have and working on a good type of genetics, where my bees will be healthier and won’t require as much treatment. I want to create a healthier bee climate in the state of West Virginia.
“I think the key word for entrepreneurship in West Virginia is growth. The idea is to bring industries into the state that weren’t here before. I think WVU specifically has been extremely helpful,” Wright said. “[Winning the business plan competition] is a really great feeling. I felt like we had a strong presentation and covered everything we needed to do, and then hearing our names – my heart was racing. We are really excited about the funding from the competition because it will get us that much closer to getting our product to market.”
More college students in West Virginia are participating in the statewide business plan competition than ever before, as the widespread initiative to propel entrepreneurship in the Mountain State seems popular among state colleges and universities. Student teams compete for the $10,000 first prize in each category, as well as accounting and legal services. The winning teams must turn their ideas into valid West Virginia businesses in a designated amount of time.
All indications from the state’s collegiate community are that students have business ideas they want to share.
“The role of entrepreneurship in higher education and in West Virginia’s statewide economy is undeniable,” Bolt said. “All of the students who have participated in the competition have undergone an incredible learning experience, and it’s certainly our hope that they undertake an entrepreneurial venture in our state. They make West Virginia’s business landscape that much stronger.”
Participating schools in the 2016-17 West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition include Alderson Broaddus University, Bethany College, Bluefield State College, Concord University, Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, New River Community and Technical College, Potomac State College of West Virginia University, Shepherd University, University of Charleston, West Liberty University, West Virginia State College, West Virginia University, West Virginia University Institute of Technology and West Virginia Wesleyan College.
The business plan competition has awarded more than $330,000 in prizes since it went to a statewide format more than a decade ago.