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With promises from Intuit, Bluefield betting big on economic development

City officials in Bluefield are hoping their economic development efforts will pay off in the near future when Intuit, the company behind TurboTax and QuickBooks, opens a “prosperity hub” in the city, bringing with it hundreds of job openings for locals.

Earlier this month, Intuit announced Bluefield was selected out of nearly 1,000 communities as the site for its third prosperity hub, and while Eileen Fagan, vice president of corporate responsibility at Intuit, said the company wants to get the operation up and running “as quickly as possible,” there are still many details that need to be finalized.

“We’re in partnership with the people on the ground there, and that’s where our main driver is coming from — those partnerships are crucial to our success,” Fagan said. “We’re committed to coming to Bluefield, but we’re coming and not assuming we have all the answers. We want to learn together with the community members there.”

The company estimates 200 to 500 jobs will come with the opening of the hub, which will be comprised of a customer success center, where employees will offer product support to callers, and an innovation lab, which will provide expertise and support for local small business owners and entrepreneurs.

The location is part of Intuit’s Mission Hope program, an initiative that aims to provide opportunities in economically distressed communities like Bluefield.

Fagan said the company used three questions to decide on a final location: where would it have the biggest impact, where could it be most successful and where were there going to be good community partners to help the project succeed.

After answering the first two questions, only a handful of potential locations were left to consider out of the original 935.

“There was a very small set that hit that overlapping need. We needed to know where we were going to find a pipeline of talent that would keep floating in, where there was broadband access, et cetera,” Fagan said. “Bluefield checked all our boxes, and the potential with local, community partners really solidified it for us.”

Intuit representatives have been working closely with city officials, particularly Jim Spencer, head of the city’s economic development program.

Under Spencer’s helm, the City of Bluefield has been making great strides in supporting its small business community, and another large economic development project — the commercialization station, a 60,000-square-foot business incubator focused on helping manufacturing companies get off the ground — is set to open soon.

“We have a lot of big things happening all at once here in Bluefield, and [Intuit’s plans for the prosperity hub] is just another positive thing to help us get the city where it should be, where it can be,” Spencer said. “It’s an exciting time here.”

While exciting, there are limited details available as to how Intuit’s prosperity hub will operate in Bluefield, since no official leases or deals have been signed between the company and the city.

The company’s previous two prosperity hubs — in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and Wise County, Virginia — function with large business partners that assist running operations at the respective locations.

“We went into those places jointly, together, as two companies,” Fagan said. “We basically told them we wanted to bring jobs to the communities and asked them to front a building. In the end, it worked out great, and both locations — we were just visiting some of the local business owners and employees not too long ago — are thriving.”

Fagan said there will also be a partner involved in the Bluefield initiative, but that there has not been a decision yet on what company it will be, or what its role will be in the operations.

There also has yet to be a final decision on where the prosperity hub will be located, although Spencer said it will “most likely be” in the First National Bank building on Federal Street, in downtown Bluefield.

Spencer would not discuss how Intuit would take over the building, whether the city would lease it out to the company, or whether the company would enter into a private lease.

“It’s all in the works,” Spencer said.

While Bluefield was selected as the location in part due to its economic distress, the city offers any business looking to locate there incentives like tax breaks to try and retain companies.

Any business opening in downtown Bluefield that buys property or enters into a two-year lease is eligible to not pay any business and operational taxes to the city during its first year of business. After that, the B&O taxes are applied on a sliding scale annually, with a quarter more due each year until the fifth year of business, when the taxes have to be paid in entirety.

B&O taxes help fund city projects and programs, and rates are set based on a business’ gross income. Spencer said the city had not discussed an incentive program with Intuit yet, but that it would qualify for the breaks “just like any other business.”

Fagan said it was too early in the process to say whether the company would take advantage of the B&O tax reduction.

Although a final timeline has not been released for the project, all involved are trying to get the prosperity hub up and running as soon as possible.

“The quicker it comes, the quicker we benefit,” Spencer said.

Spencer said he does not think expediting the project is a risk, but rather a necessary reality if the city wants to become economically competitive.

“Municipalities and local governments need to work at the speed of businesses if they want the benefits of business,” Spencer said. “We can’t get caught up in red tape. Yes, we’re aggressive here in Bluefield, but it’s working.”

As far as risks in general regarding the project, Spencer said he “would not speculate” on potential outcomes, and it’s not possible to say at this time what future costs or benefits could be produced by Intuit’s involvement in the community.

Intuit’s openings in Wise and Johnstown have created 900 jobs between the two communities. While that success could be taken as an indication that Bluefield will most likely benefit as well, perhaps on a different scale, Fagan said the company is aware that every community is different and that flexibility in development is crucial to long-term success.

“There are different needs, different demands, and we are not here to assign anything or pretend we know this place better than the people who live and work here. We’re going to listen — that’s one of the most important things we can do — and then we’re going to act together,” Fagan said.

For Spencer, the opportunity to try something new in Bluefield is one that cannot be passed up. The prosperity hub, he hopes, will help keep young, educated professionals — some from the more than a dozen colleges in the area — in the community instead of having them leave to different states for employment. The incubator aspect will also, hopefully, help aspiring entrepreneurs establish themselves and learn the ins and outs of running a successful small business.

Already, Spencer said, other businesses have reached out to Bluefield since Intuit’s announcement to learn more about the city and its developing opportunities.

“Business begets business,” Spencer said. “We need to do something around here, and we need to start being creative with our solutions. This is a good thing. This is positive, and it’s going to help everything around here — help breathe life back into our community.”

Caity Coyne is a corps member

with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach Caity Coyne at caity.coyne@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939 or follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.

Funerals for Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Berdine, Robert - 2 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Arnoldsburg.

Bonsall, Buddy - 11 a.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Holstein, Gary - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Keener, John - 8 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Miller, Edward - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Wright, Virginia - 11 a.m., Nitro Church of God, Nitro.