What a difference a decade makes. Once a model for bad management and crushing debt and then a failed bailout called The Falls, Bristol, Virginia, kept going only through state largesse. Add to that lost jobs and tax revenue from the collapse of the coal industry, and the city seemed to be sliding into an abyss.
Then came Steve Johnson’s successful development just across the state line in Bristol, Tennessee, and momentum from The Pinnacle spilled over into Virginia, and slowly the economy began to turn around. American Merchant took over the former Ball Corp. plant, invested $24 million in state-of-the-art equipment, and a little over a year ago began shipping high-end cotton towels with the promise of 400 jobs once full production levels are reached.
Last October, another 100 jobs came from Dharma Pharmaceuticals, which became the first medical cannabis dispensary to open in Virginia, occupying space left in the former Bristol Mall. And last month, Dharma moved to Abingdon because of another project coming to Bristol, the Hard Rock Casino, Bristol’s salvation.
The hotel and casino project is a partnership between Hard Rock International and two local companies, the United Company and Par Ventures. It will be a destination resort located at the site of the old Bristol Mall and will offer world-class dining, new entertainment options, wedding and convention facilities, top-notch retailers, and indoor and outdoor concert venues, creating thousands of new jobs and bringing millions in new revenues from an estimated 4 million visitors annually when it opens in 2023.
In March, it was announced that former NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip will open a brewery and taproom in Bristol, bringing back to life the old Studio Brew building. And now comes the announcement of an Amazon delivery center to locate at Exit 7 in the Bristol Virginia Industrial Park, creating hundreds of jobs and more “great news for the city,” says City Manager Randy Eads.
These developments and new jobs don’t just benefit the lesser of the two Bristols, Washington County and the commonwealth of Virginia, but Northeast Tennessee as well.
• Kingsport City Manager Chris McCartt: The positive economic impact of this announcement will be felt throughout all of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. “We are pleased to hear that Amazon has announced they are making an investment in Bristol, Virginia, which we hope is the first of more to come by this company in our region.”
• Kingsport Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Miles Burdine: “Every time a company chooses to come to this region, regardless of the specific location, it benefits all of us. We welcome the Amazon distribution center, and we are here to support them in any way possible.”
• Networks Sullivan Partnership CEO Clay Walker: “Amazon minimum starting wage is $15 an hour with benefits, so that will attract a few folks, I’m sure. They have a great building there, and I know they are thrilled to have such a recognizable brand fill it, and they certainly welcome the jobs, as we all do.”
• Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable: Amazon’s choice to locate in the area shows the region is “on the map” when it comes to economic development. “What’s good for the region is good for us all.”
Well said, gentlemen.
-The Kingsport Times-News