Winding road holds big dreams

For Larry Davidson, it all started with a road — a 32-mile, serpentine stretch of Route 16 between Marion and Tazewell, Virginia, known as the Back of the Dragon. Larry loved to ride the 435 snaking curves of the road and suspected that many other motorcyclists and driving enthusiasts would as well. But he needed help marketing the road that spanned the Big Walker, Brushy, and Clinch Mountains.

$1.6 million capital infusion from Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, Tobacco Commission, and private investors.

Larry turned to the Southwest SBDC for assistance. Once the campaign started, Larry’s suspicions proved true; others came, eager to experience the thrill of navigating all those curves and switchbacks.

As the Dragon’s popularity grew, Larry started Dragon Fire to sell souvenirs and memorabilia to riders and drivers. It wasn’t long before Larry found himself outgrowing the 400-foot doublewide trailer where he sold Back of the Dragon merchandise. The next step was to build a welcome center. It was time for the dragon to spread its wings.

Larry worked with Margie Douglass, Center Director, and the Southwest SBDC team to find funding for the new space. He wanted a welcome center that incorporated retail space, a coffee bar, yogurt bar, brewery, and lounge. In short, he wanted a 5,000 square-foot edifice. With the SBDC’s help, Larry received a $150,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) grant and a $650,000 loan from the Tobacco Commission. With the addition of investor financing, the $1.68 million facility was built, and opened in December 2019.

For Larry, the SBDC was the glue that made all the pieces fit together. “You can have the best idea in the world but, if you don’t know how to implement it, that idea isn’t worth anything. It doesn’t do you any good,” he says. “I had so much knowledge about my market, but I was unsure how to take that head full of knowledge and make it work to pay dividends for my business. This is where the SBDC program bridged the gap.”

Larry is confident that the SBDC will be an ongoing resource that he will rely on as he navigates the curves of the future.

“Looking back, if it hadn’t been for Margie and the SBDC, I am confident that I would not be where I am,” said Larry. “It’s been the most positive factor for me being successful up to this point, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be so in the future.”

Virginia SBDC