Back of the Dragon Project
The SW-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, 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. It 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. Back of the Dragon is the name he gave the route and his project.
Mr. Davidson, along with his son, wanted to open a store front at the Tazewell end of the route that would also sell the various items and refreshments. Research by the client and the Southwest SBDC found that this property did not meet VA Department of Health regulations for water and sewer, so the project was nixed.
Mr. Davidson began marketing the route to his target markets online. To date, the “Back of the Dragon” project has held three all day events called “Back of the Dragon Day,” which have attracted thousands of visitors from all over the US, Canada, and England to southwest Virginia. Another is planned for June, 2013.
Mr. Davidson has been successful in obtaining partners on the Smyth County end of the route, who also advertise the area and sell the memorabilia. Both Tazewell County and Smyth County report an increase in tourism that is attributed to this project. The “Back of the Dragon” website, www.backofthedragon.com , is active and internet sales to advertisers and sponsors continue to increase.
The SW-SBDC also coordinated meetings with Mr. Davidson and the Tazewell County Office of Tourism. Together they obtained a Marketing Leverage Grant through the Virginia Tourism Corporation to market this newly created tourism designation in southwest Virginia. The Back of the Dragon route has now been granted official tourism designation by the Virginia Legislature. Signage has been provided by the Virginia Department of Transportation. The ribbon cutting for this official designation was held October 22, 2012.
Mr. Davidson, working with the SW-SBDC, and has just completed a business plan and financial projections for the start-up of a full-service restaurant and event facility that would further enhance the Back of the Dragon project and promote tourism to southwest Virginia.