Galax business challenge spurs downtown growth

GALAX, Va. (WDBJ) -- Walk down the streets of downtown Galax, and you'll notice the empty storefronts, juxtaposed next to signs that say, "Welcome."

Jessica Milby wants to help return the city to the one her grandmother used to tell her about.

"They would come and spend the entire day in Galax and do all kinds of things so I kind of had that vision for Galax. Come back, spend all day downtown, so for all of these people to be here for that purpose is very exciting," said Milby, the grant coordinator for the Galax Business Challenge.

The Business Challenge was a competition where local entrepreneurs received hands-on training before submitting their business proposals.

"We learned a lot about finances, advertising, marketing - things that we thought we knew things about. We had a lot to learn," said Rick Whisenhunt, owner of Galax Xtreme Fitness, which won the $8,000 third place prize.

The city received $45,000 from the Department of Housing and Community Development to fund the program.

The first place company, Studio B Concepts, took home $15,000. The second place team, Wild Pony Brewery, won $10,000.

"From day one, it never seemed like a competition. It was about what can we do to build business, and obviously be a profitable and sustainable business. But it was more of, how can we work together to make people aware of what we have to offer in this area," said Travis Belton, whose wife, Tonya, owns and operates Studio B Concepts.

For the Beltons, the competition was a big step towards inspiring future generations to consider the city their home.

"It's also exciting to know that you can be part of a bigger change for our kids," Travis Belton said. "We don't want our kids to think that they have to leave the area because we're proud of our hometown."