A Thriving Community with a Rich History, Bristol, Virginia is a city on the rise.
Business View Magazine interviews Mack Chapman, Economic Development Specialist for the city of Bristol Virginia, for our focus on Economic Development in U.S. Cities
Renowned for its lively entertainment scene and storied past, Bristol, Virginia, has been drawing considerable interest. This charming and distinctive community is known as the “Birthplace of Country Music,” a title it holds for hosting some of the earliest recording sessions in modern country music history, dating back to 1927. The community’s appeal also extends beyond its musical heritage, offering outdoor recreation, and quality of life opportunities for all.
Rhythm and Roots and Other Popular Events
As a twin city, Bristol straddles the state line with Tennessee, a unique feature that allows a person to stand in both Virginia and Tennessee simultaneously. Mack Chapman, Bristol Economic Development Specialist, portrays, “It’s a very unique place. You can get a little taste of the South, by technically still being in the north, being in Virginia. As a community, we’re welcoming to everybody. That’s why we host so many different events.”
The much loved Rhythm and Roots Country Music Festival is a signature event in Bristol, drawing thousands of visitors annually. “Both cities close off their downtown. We have many stages, and many acts throughout the whole weekend. It benefits our restaurants, our hotels, and it brings in a lot of tax revenue,” Chapman shares. The Bristol Motor Speedway also hosts a popular music festival, known as Country Thunder, hosting major acts such as Eric church, Brooks and Dunn and Jelly Roll. “Events like that create a lot of excitement for this area, and it shows people that we are willing to bring stuff in,” he adds, noting that the Hard Rock Casino will be adding an entertainment component when they are fully opened in 2024.
Economic Development and Growth
Bristol is experiencing a wave of economic development and expansion. The city has successfully attracted new businesses, with notable mentions like the upcoming Hard Rock Casino, which will bring 1,200 jobs to the area. This development has attracted new hotels to the region, including a Residence Inn by Marriot, in the city’s Falls area retail development. Chapman maintains that despite economic challenges such as inflation, Bristol is poised to continue its growth trajectory. “We’ve unfortunately had to raise the occupancy and meals taxes recently,” he acknowledges. “We are thinking things are still going to come along to fill those rooms, and to fill our restaurants, but to increase the actual base, we’ve got to continue to build housing.” Several townhome and apartment developments are underway in Bristol, and the city is looking forward to attracting more housing in the future.
Manufacturing remains a key pillar of Bristol’s economy, with companies like Electro-Mechanical Corporation, Strongwell Corporation, and Shearer’s Foods providing thousands of jobs in the area. Chapman emphasizes that these manufacturing enterprises contribute significantly to the local economy. Looking towards future economic development, Chapman relays, “We’re going to continue to diversify our economic outlook. We need to be looking toward tech as well as manufacturing and retail. I think we’ve done a good job at diversifying it outside of just manufacturing.”
Infrastructure and Asbestos Abatement
In terms of infrastructure, Bristol is focused on growth and enhancing well-being in the community. Asbestos abatement projects are underway, ensuring safety in local businesses and institutions. Most recently the city of Bristol removed Asbestos from a downtown building, creating an opportunity for a new business to open in the location. Additionally, a new school is in the works, which Chapman believes will be a positive on the economic development front, as people and businesses start to look at the amenities of the city.
Economic Development Partnerships
Bristol is not only committed to local business development but also invests in workforce development. Working with organizations like the Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board and the Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing, the city is building a supportive environment for businesses and entrepreneurs. “Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing, is a non-profit focused on supporting manufacturers in the region,” Chapman conveys. “We have the SBDC, and it helps with training and getting people into those jobs, and it can help entrepreneurs who are looking to open new businesses as well. And then we have People Incorporated, which can also help with being a funding mechanism for these businesses. So, there’s a lot of stuff in place to help our business.”
At the state level, Chapman underscores the importance of Bristol’s partnership with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, relaying, “We’ve been on several visits together lately to our manufacturers, to see how we can be of assistance to them. Some good things have come out of those meetings.” He highlights the Tennessee Valley Authority as another valued relationship for the city, saying, “Although we’re in Virginia, we’re still in their footprint, and they’re actually a good partner that helps us with everything from grant funding to recruitment.”
Showcasing the city of Bristol to a National Audience
Promoting the city of Bristol is another area of focus, and organizations like Explore Bristol, Believe in Bristol, and the Chamber of Commerce play crucial roles in marketing the best attributes of the community. “All of them do an exceptional job at marketing us throughout the country. I believe that’s what’s driving a lot of the interest for this area. We have a lot to offer.” Chapman recounts. He points to the city’s recreation opportunities, such as fly fishing and mountain biking as a draw for outdoor enthusiasts, while the region’s music history brings people from throughout the nation. “If you’re looking for a city that’s built for country music, this is the city,” he boasts. “If you want to get to the roots of country music, you come to Bristol. We have the Country Music Museum that shows you from the beginning how it all started, and how country music has evolved.” Meanwhile, an exciting addition to Bristol’s sports scene is the upcoming professional soccer team, Bristol Rhythm AFC, who are set to debut in 2024.
An Exciting Outlook for the Future of Bristol
Moving forward, Chapman says, “I’m excited for the growth overall and the interest that people have had in the city of Bristol. We’re on a lot of people’s radars, whether it be for our outdoor recreation, or the new businesses that are coming in.” He talks about the challenges the city is working to address moving into the future, including increasing housing inventory, and attracting developers. As for what makes Bristol Virginia an attractive choice, he says, “We’re not a big city, but we are a growing city that maintains our small-town feel. There’s not the crazy amounts of traffic that you would see in a big city, but we offer a lot of the amenities that larger cities do have.”
Bristol’s welcoming atmosphere, commitment to economic growth, and focus on workforce development make it a place of opportunity and prosperity. As the city continues to evolve and diversify, it remains an ideal destination for those seeking a blend of tradition and progress. With its unique charm, Bristol, Virginia, continues to make a lasting impression on all who visit or choose to call it home.
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AT A GLANCE
What: A dynamic and growing city on the state line separating Virginia and Tennessee
Where: An independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia
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