BRISTOL — Bristol is looking ahead — on both sides of the state line.
On Wednesday, the Bristol Chamber hosted the Bristol State of the Cities and Visioning Summit with a reveal of the Bristol2040 Visioning Project. The Bristol 2040 plan is a strategic economic development plan to better Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia as a whole. That includes increasing the quality of life, creating more wealth and making the area a more attractive destination for tourists and companies.
But first, you have to assess where you’ve been.
The plan, put together with help from economic development firm Market Street Services, includes eight key priorities. The priorities include a focus on art and tourism, music economy, competitive workforce, entrepreneurship, housing, leadership and collaboration, Downtown Bristol and targeted businesses.
Part of what the Bristol2040 plan aims to address is the decreasing population and labor force trends. The Bristol area has the highest percentage of residents 65 or older and the lowest percentage of adults in the prime workforce years of 25 to 44, according to the Market Street Services community assessment.
During his State of the Cities talk, Bristol Tennessee Mayor Mahlon Luttrell said one of the top goals for Bristol, Tennessee, is developing the workforce for companies looking for talented, skilled employees to aid that issue. That initiative includes the Tennessee High School Viking Career Center, which will be developed thanks to a multi-million dollar grant.
“This off-site, alternative learning program will allow work-based learning opportunities for students,” Luttrell said. “The key ingredient to the attraction and expansion of businesses in our region is the availability of a skilled workforce.”
For Bristol, Virginia Mayor Anthony Farnum, it’s about building finances and forging ahead.
“It wasn’t that long ago that Bristol, Virginia was identified as the most fiscally distressed locality in the State of Virginia,” Farnum said. “We have budgeted conservatively. We've been able to put money away in our reserve fund and we began the long road of paying down our city debt.
"Recently we've had several increases to the city’s credit rating and we are no longer the most fiscally distressed city in the State of Virginia.”
The area is looking to a future filled with a Hard Rock Cafe Hotel and Casino to take the place of the old Bristol Mall and an Amazon distribution center along with various new businesses.
“I have so much hope, Farnum said. “There’s a reason these companies are coming to Bristol, Virginia. We are determined to grow, look ahead and go forward.”
In moving ahead, identity is also a focus.
Allen Hurley is the founder of Vision LLC and is also a member of the Bristol 2040 Steering Committee. Hurley said he had a tough time getting customers to come to Bristol rather than visit the company’s other sites. Now, that’s not the case. Those attractions, he said, just need to be “packaged together.”
“Now those people want to come here because it's a more vibrant place,” Hurley said. “They love that we have a Nascar track, the golf courses, the fishing. ...They love the parks we have, the music. We need to figure out how to package that together. That’s who we are.
“We know who we are, we just have to put this plan together and execute it.”
Each focus on the Bristol 2040 plan has its own set of strategies. But for leaders of the two Bristol Cities, it’s about getting better all while staying true to that Bristol identity.
“We don't want to be like someone else,” Luttrell said. “I think we want our own identity. We want to be better than the best.”
For more information, go to www.bristol2040.com.