Here’s a round-up of news items from around Southwest and Southside. Send items for possible inclusion to

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Deadline to apply for Washington County Business Challenge is Jan. 11

The Washington County Business Challenge, a competitive six-week training program in its ninth year, will award over $32,000 in cash and services to startups and expanding businesses within the towns of Abingdon, Damascus, Glade Spring and Washington County. 

The mission of the challenge is to foster small business development and job opportunities around Washington County. To date, more than 130 business owners have participated with 45% starting or expanding businesses in Washington County, resulting in job growth and increased tax revenue for the locality.

The program will be a virtual-only weekly event and will begin on Jan. 18. The Business Challenge is a collaborative effort of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Community Capital and Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator. This year, the Emory & Henry School of Business has increased the 2022 Entrepreneurship Award. In addition to $5,000 cash and support from the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator, the winner will receive mentorship, tuition assistance and the opportunity for three employees to attend Emory & Henry’s Small Business Growth Program. This award is given to an enterprise or individual that demonstrates current or potential impact in the entire Washington County area.

There will be two $5,000 first-place awards, two $2,500 second-place awards and two $500 third-place awards. 

Other awards are listed below.

  • First Community Bank will award $1,500 for the Best Pitch and $1,000 to the Best Business Plan.
  • Comfort Suites will award $1,000 for the Most Knowledgeable Business Idea.
  • Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator will award half price rent for one year for the first-place startup Business and first-place existing business winners
  • The Washington County Chamber of Commerce will award four one 1-year  chamber memberships to all first- and second-place winners
  • Food City will provide printing, and the Bristol Herald Courier is an annual publicity sponsor. All of the in-kind sponsors have been donors since 2014. 
  • Mike Spiegler, principal partner in Spiegler and Blevins CPAs, will contribute one year of CPA services ($6,000 value).
  • John Martin, partner at Penn Stuart, will contribute the business startup formation documents, (LLC, B Corp, partnership, C Corp, etc.) to the winning contestant ($2,500 value).

All past participants are eligible to attend the classes and receive free education and/or to participate as a contestant if they have not been a first-place winner in the past. Everyone interested in expanding or starting a business in the towns within Washington County are encouraged to enter.  
The deadline to register is Jan. 11. The classes begin Jan. 18. To register, visit Interested participants may inquire at 276-492-2060 to receive more information

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Some of Blue Ridge Literacy’s offerings.

Blue Ridge Literacy receives grant from Freedom First Credit Union

A $6,000 grant will help Blue Ridge Literacy provide continuity of English literacy and citizenship preparation services to adults in the Roanoke Valley. The grant was awarded through Freedom First Credit Union’s Community Grants Program which, according to a news release, supports the work being done by community organizations to break down barriers, enable people to fully participate as local citizens and help families achieve economic success and a better quality of life.

According to BRL’s executive director, Ahoo Salem, funds from Freedom First will support programming for a minimum of 60 foreign-born adults at different stages of their naturalization process. In order to pass the U.S. naturalization interview, lawful permanent residents are tested on their knowledge of U.S. civics and English skills. BRL’s citizenship preparation services are designed with consideration of the learners’ skill-based needs and naturalization processes. The goal is a 100% pass rate for the learners who take their citizenship test.  

Salem, who became a U.S. citizen herself in 2021, continues to say that “becoming an American Citizen is an important life goal for many BRL learners. Our affordable and structured Citizenship Preparation Programs ensure that lawful permanent residents have the needed skills to realize this important goal.” BRL offers in-person beginner-level English and civics classes for lawful permanent residents at the earlier stages of their immigration journey as well as online and in-person high intermediate and advanced level citizenship preparation classes and citizenship study groups for foreign-born adults who have started their naturalization process.

Founded in 1985, Blue Ridge Literacy offers English literacy services to adults living in the counties of Roanoke, Botetourt, Franklin, Alleghany and Craig, and the cities of Roanoke and Salem. Last year, over 300 adult learners were served through ESOL classes, one-on-one tutoring matches, and citizenship preparation classes. To learn more, visit For questions, call 540-265-9339 or email

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VCEDA approves seed capital grant for Wise County pool company

Hughes Enterprises LLC, doing business as Wise Guys Pools, is a recent recipient of a $6,500 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority seed capital matching grant.

“VCEDA was pleased to assist Wise Guys Pools through the seed capital matching grant fund program,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “Wise Guys Pools projects three full-time jobs and four part-time jobs within five years.”

Wise Guys Pools both sells and installs above ground pools and Hughes said its service area includes Wise County and other localities in far Southwest Virginia.

In 2021, Hughes said the business installed eight new pools and completed a number of repair projects for pool owners.

Hughes worked with the Small Business Development Center at Mountain Empire Community College in the development of his application to VCEDA and received a letter of support from the Wise County Industrial Development Authority.

“Wise Guys Pools created a niche business during the pandemic to meet the needs of residents in the region,” said MECC SBDC Director Becki O’Quinn-Purdie. “The VCEDA Seed Capital Fund helped Jordan build his business to meet the high demands of customers. MECC SBDC enjoyed working with Wize Guys Pools and seeing this small business grow in the past months.”

About the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority Seed Capital Matching Grant Fund: VCEDA region for-profit businesses one year and under with less than 10 full-time employees are eligible to apply for dollar-for-dollar matching grants up to $10,000 from the VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Fund. Applicants work with the Small Business Development Centers at Mountain Empire and Southwest Virginia community colleges to prepare the applications to VCEDA that include detailed business and financial plans. Businesses must be located in or plan to operate in the VCEDA region in southwestern Virginia that includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise counties and the city of Norton.