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VCEDA awards $100,000 grant to EarthLink LLC

LEBANON — An internet service provider moving to Southwest Virginia will get $100,000 in grants for workforce training.

The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) board approved the grant Thursday for EarthLink LLC, which in September announced plans to locate at the Project Intersection commercial development site in Norton.

The grant will help prepare EarthLink to train and hire up to 285 workers at its planned customer support center near the junction of U.S. Route 23 and State Route 58-A, according to VCEDA Executive Director Jonathan Belcher. The board also authorized the Wise County Industrial Development Authority to lease part of the former Sykes building — which VCEDA helped fund construction of — at the Wise County Technology Park to EarthLink.

EarthLink will operate at the Sykes building until the planned 30,000-square-foot Project Intersection facility is built. Virginia has committed $5.4 million toward the company’s location.

Project Intersection has been a three-year development effort by the Lonesome Pine Regional Industrial Facilities Authority.

Belcher told the authority board Thursday that the EarthLink grant is part of $6.15 million in VCEDA grant and loan activity in 2021 — the highest annual level in the authority’s 33-year history despite dwindling coal severance tax revenues that are the authority’s funding source.

This year’s VCEDA funds have gone toward 57 new and existing business expansion and retention efforts with a projected 985 full-time and 131 part-time jobs created, Belcher said. The funding has helped leverage $203.72 million in private investment.

Belcher said a yet-to-be-announced project in VCEDA’s eight-county and city service region could raise total private investment in 2021 to $210 million and more than 1,000 full-time jobs.

VCEDA project workforce training grants approved Thursday included:

• $244,126 for the Southwest Virginia Community College Educational Foundation from the VCEDA Coalfield Workforce Development and Training Fund to support workforce development and training for renewable and alternative energy programs.

• $225,000 from the VCEDA Coalfield Workforce Development and Training Fund for workforce development and training for the Southwest Virginia Solar Workforce Accelerator at Mountain Empire Community College and Southwest Virginia Community College.

• $50,000 from the VCEDA Coalfield Workforce Development and Training Fund to the Napoleon Hill Foundation to assist with the development of an online interactive course in entrepreneurial skills for high school students in the VCEDA region.

Since 2007 VCEDA has reported business announcements involving 209 new projects and 70 expansions, said Belcher. Those new and existing projects have created 9,539 full-time jobs and 1,719 part-time jobs with $749.6 million in private investment.

VCEDA’s Seed Capital grant program for small business startups has spread to all seven counties and Norton, Belcher said, with grants up to $10,000 available for equipment and starting costs. In recent months, a bakery and restaurant in Appalachia and a pottery store in Big Stone Gap have been among the 40 Seed Capital grants awarded this year.

Belcher said the Seed Capital program helps communities looking to attract new businesses and residents by addressing overall quality of life and local amenities.

The Seed Capital program has provided grants for more than 100 startup businesses in far Southwest Virginia, Belcher said, and those businesses range from restaurant/beverage to tourism, information technology, retail, service and professional.

“The Seed Capital grants are 5% or less of our total annual activity and they’re among our most successful programs,” said Belcher. “Virginia Tech did a review of that program and found that the return on investment has been $33 for each dollar.”

“Of course, we also still focus heavily on attracting larger businesses to the region and larger existing businesses to expand as exemplified by a number that were recruited and assisted in 2021 alone,” Belcher said. “(That) represents the majority of our funding activity.”

US missionaries say 2 of 17 abductees freed in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Two of 17 members of a missionary group who were kidnapped more than a month ago have been freed in Haiti and are safe, “in good spirits and being cared for,” their Ohio-based church organization said Sunday.

Christian Aid Ministries issued a statement saying it could not give the names of those released, why they were freed or other information.

“While we rejoice at this release, our hearts are with the 15 people who are still being held,” the group said.

The missionaries were kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang on Oct. 16. There are five children in the group of 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian, including an 8-month-old. Their Haitian driver also was abducted, according to a local human rights organization.

The leader of the 400 Mawozo gang has threatened to kill the hostages unless his demands are met. Authorities have said the gang was demanding $1 million per person, although it wasn’t immediately clear that included the children in the group.

The spokesman for Haiti’s National Police, Gary Desrosiers, confirmed to The Associated Press that two hostages were released on Sunday.

The FBI, which is helping Haitian authorities recover the captives, declined to comment.

The release comes as Haiti struggles with a spike in gang-related violence and kidnappings, with the U.S. government recently urging U.S. citizens to leave Haiti amid deepening insecurity and a severe lack of fuel blamed on gangs blocking gas distribution terminals.

On Friday, Canada announced it was pulling all but essential personnel from its embassy.

The fuel shortage has forced hospitals to turn away patients and paralyzed public transportation, with some schools closing and businesses shortening their work hours.

Haiti also is trying to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck in mid-August, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying tens of thousands of homes.

Throwback Thursday: Most retailers forgo Thanksgiving hours as holiday shopping season kicks off

KINGSPORT — A few retailers other than grocery stores will be open here and across the nation Thanksgiving Day.

It is a throwback Thursday of sorts for retail the second year running.

Most retailers, including Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Belk and other big box stores, will forgo a Thanksgiving opening and wait until Black Friday. Last year, Black Friday saw few stores open on Thanksgiving due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Big Lots and Dollar Tree, with locations in Kingsport and across the Tri-Cities, will be open, as will Hamrick's in Kingsport near Tri-Cities Airport. And Bass Pro Shops, which has its only Tri-Cities location at the Pinnacle in Bristol, will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some restaurants also will be open Thursday.

After the Thursday and Friday sales come Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.


Bigs Lots will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. with doorbusters including free Christmas lights for those with a Big Lots frequent shopper rewards card. Most Dollar Tree stores here and nationwide will be open but hours will vary by location.

“I probably will hit Big Lots” Thursday, said Pam Shipley, an avid Black Friday shopper from Kingsport. However, she said much of her shopping is being done now in pre-Black Friday sales and Black Friday-themed sales that began around the first of November.

Others to be open Thursday are Cabela’s, which has a Johnson City location, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., CVS Pharmacy at regular hours, some of which are 24-7, Family Dollar, and Rite Aide with abbreviated hours. Grocery stores are open for abbreviated hours, too, for folks to pick up last-minute food items.

“I just think it (Thanksgiving) should be for family,” said avid Black Friday shopper Judy Bowery of Hawkins County, near Rogesrville.

”Kmart was the one that started the whole being open for Thanksgiving thing,” Shipley said, although in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the old Ames store in Kingsport (where Hill’s used to be) opened on Thanksgiving.

Kmart also closed its Tri-Cities stores, as did Sears, and the only JCPenney in the Tri-Cities is in Johnson City.


Shipley and Bowery also lamented the reduction in sales papers or fliers for Black Friday and pre-Black Friday sales. Target recently stopped all newspaper inserts nationwide.

“I’m just not getting the fliers in the mail or the paper. I miss that,” Bowery said. Although she uses websites and sometime cellphone apps to track Black Friday deals, she said the paper fliers are good to look at as the Thanksgiving turkey and dressing digest.

Many inserts have been appearing throughout November for deals covering longer time periods than the traditional Black Friday sales.

Bowery and Shipley said they have been shopping online and in person already, although Shipley said she’s not looking for big-ticket items this year, just things like pajamas, socks and such.

“I’ve been buying for the past two or three weeks,” Shipley said.

“Everybody’s got phones now. Everybody’s got TVs,” Shipley added, although she said she might “get in the madness” Friday morning and even go to the Pinnacle if someone in the family will go with her. If she does, however, she said she will be wearing a mask.

Bowery said that Kohl’s, which opens Black Friday morning, already has some great 15% off deals and $15 off $50 coupons, as do other retailers. She said she will shop Rogersville and Kingsport for her in-person gift buying but probably not Pinnacle.

Lowe’s, Home Depot and other retailers will also be open Friday with Black Friday deals.


Issues affecting holiday shopping this year are a backed-up supply chain and high inflation rates in the aftermath of the pandemic, as well as employee shortages in some businesses.

The evening television news and national print media have carried images of container ships not unloaded in port, and grocery stores have empty sections of shelves. Local businesses have signs out front seeking job applicants.

Ron Lenihan, in an article for TheStreet, says that the supply chain issues and inflation “could mean that Black Friday bargain hunters might not see as many gangbuster deals as they usual would.”

An article from NerdWallet by Courtney Jespersen and republished by MarketWatch said supply chain issues will be a factor and that online sales will continue to blossom this year.

Bowery said she’s seen what she suspects is a combination of supply chain problems and low employee levels in Walmart, where many items were plentiful, even pre-Black Friday special ones, but things like paper plates and tissues were sold out or in short supply.

She said another issue is a shortage of cashiers and self-checkouts overrun with shoppers.

Bryan Cannon, CEO and chief portfolio strategist for Cannon Advisors, told Lenihan that shoppers might not see as many great deals in 2021 as in previous holiday seasons due to the supply chain constraints as a result of COVID-19 and labor shortages. Rising shipping and material costs will have a direct impact on the prices consumers pay at check out, Cannon told Lenihan.

“The consumers who were financially unimpacted by the pandemic fallout will continue to shop as usual,” Cannon said. “However, those who lost their jobs and are feeling the pinch from inflation will scale their shopping back this year.”

ONLINE-ONLY BONUS: WHERE DID THE NAME BLACK FRIDAY ORIGINATE?Black Friday means the day retailers historically go from a loss or being in the red to a profit or being in the black, right?

Not so fast. Multiple sources say historians indicate it originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, around 1966, when throngs of shoppers and tourists would descend on the city on the day between Thanksgiving and the Army-Navy football game.

The Philadelphia police took to calling the day Black Friday because officers had to work long hours and deal with bad traffic, bad weather and other crowd-related miseries.

According to the New York Times, retailers tried to rebrand the holiday “Big Friday.” However, when that didn’t catch on, they reclaimed the name Black Friday, saying that the holiday was when stores went from red to the black.

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Puppies rescued after being abandoned, seeking forever homes

KINGSPORT — People often think of the sultry summer months as a time of relaxation, assurance and ease before the onrush of bitter winter.

Children run wild, free, without the pressurized social structure of academia; adults luxuriate in the tranquil, long hours of sunlight with revitalized energy; animals accentuate the liveliest of their capabilities.

Yet by the malicious hands of others, the true innocents of the world — animals — can be stripped from proper nourishment and support, which is precisely what happened with Rosie and her nine puppies.

“They were found by the lake, chained to a pole, abandoned,” explained 80-year-old Regina Isenburg. “Two of the puppies had already been run over before we could get to them. So we brought the mama and the seven other puppies here. I have a fenced-in yard, but I cannot walk, and so we had three shifts: morning, afternoon and evening. Different people came and helped feed them.”

Isenburg has always held a softness for animals, fueling her passion to offer them the best care possible. She founded the Bridge Home No Kill Animal Rescue in the image of that notion.

“I got community help everywhere. The puppies have been socialized with such caring people. I’ve had old ones and I’ve had young ones coming to my door, and I mean it’s just been very compelling. I was even able to get them all spayed and neutered, keeping them healthy and content. I couldn’t have done it myself.. I just couldn’t.

A friend of Isenburg, 61-year-old Donna Ashby, was the first to discover the suffering family on her vacant property. Her heart immediately skipped a beat when she came to the realization that they had been abandoned.

“There was plenty of shade on the property, where she could’ve been chained up, but she was left in the hot, June sun,” Ashby said.

With the overflowing generosity and kindness expressed, righting the wrong of the canine family’s initial experience with humans has been duly accomplished. Only two puppies — Buster and Honeydew — remain up for adoption; the rest of the litter, including Rosie, have successfully found their forever homes.

Buster and Honeydew are about 5 months old and appear to be a spaniel mix.

“I hope to place them in loving homes soon,” Isenburg said. “It’s getting colder and colder, darker and darker now.”

Isenburg, with the support from Ashby and other neighbors, friends and family, is able to nurture furry individuals and families from precarious situations and offer them a new, fresh start to life. In addition to the puppies, she also currently has three orange kittens meowing for their own loving parents.

“We’ll do anything to offer support for these animals,” Isenburg said, a sentiment echoed by Ashby.

Those interested in adopting can call Isenburg at (423) 677-6694.

Tennessee High boys basketball coach Michael McMeans poses alongside the Arby’s Classic bracket during Sunday’s news conference.