Photo contributed by John M. Bray
Barter Theatre has a major economic impact in Southwest Virginia — to the tune of $34 million, according to an independent study released on Wednesday.
According to the study, which was conducted by Destination Service and Young Strategies, people who visited Barter spent $20.91 million in 2012. Most of that money was spent on accommodations, dining, shopping and other related items to go along with their visit to the theatre. This study is the first time the economic impact of Barter Theatre has been measured.
“We were surprised our impact was as great as it is,” said Richard Rose, producing artistic director at Barter Theatre. “We knew Barter had a significant impact in the region, but we didn’t expect it to be quite so big.”
Spending by visitors to Barter Theatre affected the local economy as well. Businesses who received some of that $20 million from visitors turned around and spent money on payroll, services, taxes and more. Spending by visitors and businesses resulted in an overall economic impact of $34 million.
All of that money helped to provide 485 jobs to the region. All of those jobs are full time or full-time equivalent and generated more than $3 million in tax revenue.
The study was completed on Sept. 12 and was conducted by an independent team of experts. The study was conducted by Stephen Powell, CEO of Destination Services; Berkeley Young, president of Young Strategies; and Dr. Steve Morse, director of the Hospitality and Tourism program at the College of Business for Western Carolina University.
Officials at Barter started talking about conducting a study like this around 10 to 12 years ago, Rose said. Destination Service and Young Strategies were conducting a similar study for the town of Abingdon when officials from Barter met and connected with the group.
“We really connected with them,” Rose said. “We also had a need for funding, grant requests and strategic planning.”
Plans for future growth also came out of the study. Some of the recommendations include renovating and expanding its production facilities, looking for ways to enhance the “Barter experience,” and working more closely with local attractions and tourism agencies to boost tourism appeal.
Rose said some of the recommendations can be implemented quickly, like marketing strategies, while others, like infrastructure improvements, will take a few years to fully implement.
One thing officials with Barter have taken away from the study is how interested people really are in sticking around after the show is over.
“This was a good study for people to understand how important tourism is,” Rose said. “It is a very significant study and becomes a good model for tourism planning in the future.”