The former Kmart building in Abingdon will be transformed into a workforce training hub. Courtesy of United Way of Southwest Virginia.

A $5 million state grant will go toward a project in Abingdon that aims to redevelop a former Kmart building into a child development and workforce hub, the governor’s office said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the town of Bluefield will get a $750,000 grant toward revitalizing an unused building to house multiple businesses in a project dubbed the Thistle Industrial Complex.

The two Southwest Virginia localities joined two others in Wednesday’s grant announcement from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office. The city of Staunton, working with the nonprofit Arcadia Project, will get $1.5 million toward renovating a vacant downtown theater into a movie theater, performance space, classroom and cafe, and the town of Cape Charles in Northampton County will get $1 million toward renovating its historic Rosenwald School.

“These remarkable projects are breathing new life into dilapidated structures that have hindered our economic progress, transforming them into vibrant small businesses and symbols of community pride,” Youngkin said in a news release.

The grants came from Virginia’s Industrial Revitalization Fund, administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The fund “is targeted toward vacant non-residential structures whose poor condition creates physical and economic blight to the surrounding area in which the structure is located,” according to the news release from Youngkin’s office.

In Abingdon, the 87,000-square-foot regional workforce development and child care center is expected to open in late July or early August 2024 in Abingdon’s Towne Center just off Interstate 81.

It will accommodate 300 children from birth through age 4, said Travis Staton, president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Virginia, which is collaborating with Food City and the town of Abingdon on the project.

That means hundreds of parents will be able to get back to work, addressing a huge barrier to post-pandemic workforce reentry, he said.

Besides offering early child care education, the facility will house STEM labs for teacher training, a career simulation center and other features. 

“Our strategy in our work is to help Southwest Virginia build one of the best workforces in America,” Staton said.

The project now has raised $19 million in commitments, and the United Way is preparing to launch a capital campaign to raise the remaining $3 million needed, Staton said.

In June, the Abingdon-based Wellspring Foundation of Southwest Virginia announced it would give $4 million toward the project. The foundation was created in 2021 after the Johnston Memorial Healthcare Foundation sold its minority ownership stake in Johnston Memorial Hospital to Ballad Health.

Demolition has begun on the site, and construction could begin as early as next week, Staton said.

Eventually, the child care side of the center will create 60 to 70 new jobs, while the workforce development side will create around 15 new jobs, Staton said.

Abingdon Town Manager Mike Cochran called having available child care “absolutely essential.”

“It’ll be a great resource for the region, really. It’s not just an Abingdon thing,” said Cochran, referring to the project’s potential appeal to multiple nearby counties.

In Bluefield, four businesses — a crane company, a furniture business, a maker of large buoys and an engineering firm — have signed letters of intent to move into the 44,000-square-foot building at 1701 Virginia Ave. once it’s renovated, said town communications director Lori Stacy.

The building will have space for up to six businesses in all, Stacy said.

The governor’s office said the Bluefield Industrial Development Authority estimates the project will create 15 jobs.

Youngkin’s office said that since 2012, the Industrial Revitalization Fund has put money toward 67 projects to revitalize vacant, blighted buildings, generating more than $208 million in other investment and creating more than 1,100 jobs.

Matt Busse is the business reporter for Cardinal News. Matt spent nearly 19 years at The News & Advance,...