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Southwest – SBDC Success Stories

Success Stories of Southwest’s Small Business Development Center

From Retirement Dream to Reality in Southwest Virginia

The Southwest SBDC Director initially met with Mr. Larry Davidson in January, 2011. Mr. Davidson had recently retired from the US Army and moved back to the “Thompson Valley” area, on VA State Route 16 in Tazewell County, Virginia, a scenic, mountainous road between Tazewell and Marion, VA  in Smyth County.

This 26-mile route crosses three mountains with an estimated driving time for the curvy route of about one hour. This route is home to some of the most beautiful mountain areas in southwest Virginia and Mr. Davidson was interested in putting this route “on the map” for tourism, attracting motorcyclist and car enthusiasts to the area- naming the route and his project, Back of the Dragon.

Davidson - Back of the DragonPlanning

The client, Mr. Davidson, along with his son, had plans to start an on-line business marketing this tourist route to cycle and auto clubs as well as selling various marketing/memorabilia items. They were also exploring the possibility of establishing a store front at the Tazewell end of the route that would also sell the marketing items as well as refreshments. Research by the client and the Southwest Small Business Development Center resulted in learning that this property would not be feasible for a business of this type as it did not meet VA Department of Health regulations for water and sewer.

Successful Project Completion & Launch

Mr. Davidson (Client) then directed efforts towards establishing a web presence, and began marketing the route to his target markets. To date, the “Back of the Dragon” project has held three all day events called “Back of the Dragon Day”, the annual event that attracts thousands of visitors from all over the US, Canada and England to southwest Virginia.
The client has also been successful in obtaining “partners” on the Smyth County end of the route, who also advertise the area and sell the marketing items. Both Tazewell County and Smyth County report an increase in tourism that is attributed to this project.

The “Back of the Dragon” website, , is active and internet sales continue to increase.

SBDC Services for Back of the Dragon Project

When initially meeting with the SBDC, the client inquired about possible grant funds for this project. The SBDC coordinated meetings with the client and the Tazewell County Office of Tourism, who teamed with the project to obtain a Marketing Leverage Grant through the Virginia Tourism Corporation. These funds were used to market this newly designated tourism designation in southwest Virginia.

The Back of the Dragon route has now been granted official tourism designation by the Virginia Legislature and signage has been provided by the Virginia Department of Transportation. The ribbon cutting for this official designation was held October 22, 2012.

Mr. Davidson (Client) continues to work with the Southwest Small Business Development Center and has just completed a business plan/financial projections for the start-up of a full-service restaurant/event facility that would further enhance the Back of the Dragon project and promote tourism to southwest Virginia.

See more photos from Back of the Dragon at