Southwest Virginia Population decline 2010-2018.

Congressman Boucher Brings Home the Bacon in 2009

by Lewis Loflin

From Congressman Rick Boucher's 2009 Transportation funding request for Bristol gets my Pork of the Year award:

Project Name: Bristol Multi modal Transportation Terminal and Trolley System Amount: $900,000

Explanation of the Request: This funding is for the City of Bristol's Multi modal Transportation Terminal and Trolley System. The City of Bristol will institute a trolley system in its downtown area to enable people to traverse downtown in an environmentally sound way and enhance economic growth and activity in the downtown area.

The project consists of the paving of a city owned tract of land, construction of a covered passenger waiting area furnished with seating and restrooms, and the purchase of three 18-43 passenger trolleys. Two trolleys will be in service with the third available as a backup. The funding provides infrastructure on the Virginia side of the City of Bristol, as the infrastructure on the Tennessee side is already in place.

Note: as of 2019 the project failed.

Perhaps they could ride by our $6 million empty Trainstation the taxpayers recently paid to fixed up. Or our $10-12 million (under construction) country music museum the "stars" refused to pay for. See Virginia Politicians and Highway Pork. He is in the process of diverting another $18,359,891 in highway funds that will not fill a single pothole nor create a single long-term job.

More: Boucher secures $476,244 to help 42 high school dropouts (at a cost of over $11,000 each) get a GED. Federal Funding Will Benefit People Inc's Youth Build Program. People Inc. is a great organization. They often act as a funnel for a number of government programs including weatherizing homes, etc. They helped my family several years ago and I have very high regards for them. But is this really a good idea?

These programs already exist to help dropouts get their GED for free. These building trades training is available at existing community colleges and vocational centers such as the William N. Neff Campus , Manpower, etc. Yet these same dropouts are often just lazy and refuse to use these programs now. Perhaps People Inc. can do what the schools here can't do, get them out of bed in the morning.

I went and did some checking on this and using existing grant programs at an existing community college a student can get a real two-year degree for $3000-$4000. That same $11,000 per student could have put as many as 150 low-income students that didn't choose to dropout of school through the local community college. But to quote Congressman Boucher:

"The federal funding announced today (June 16) will assist People Inc. provide 42 young adults who have dropped out of high school with an opportunity to earn their GED while at the same time receiving training for a career in the construction industry."

To his credit Congressman Boucher does claim he got a Veterans Administration out patient clinic to locate in Bristol Virginia. This was a big help to local veterans. See Congressman Rick Boucher Supports Earmarks. Boucher is ranked by Citizens Against Government Waste as one of the biggest porkers in Congress, but nobody can deny he is an economic force in Southwest Virginia.

Announcement of more pork for the High Knob Tower for July 3, 2009 in regards to an abandoned fire tower. To quote Congressman Boucher in Coeburn, VA:

I am pleased to join you in Coeburn this morning to announce the provision of a $280,000 federal Transportation Enhancement grant to advance the reconstruction of the Observation Tower at High Knob...The High Knob Observation tower was destroyed by fire in the Fall of 2007, and its destruction represented a great loss for the history and heritage of our region.

Generations of families have gathered at the Tower, marriage proposals have been made there and weddings performed. Visited by 5,000 people each year, the Tower was a focal point for the High Knob region. With its unparalleled view of five states within a 100 mile radius, the Tower was the highest point in the entire Clinch Ranger District.

There's not a shred of proof of any 5000 visitors, but does that doesn't matter, it's about the money. According to local officials the total cost of this project, mostly to taxpayers will be about $550,000. In other announcements for Federal funding in June-July:

$33,330 to the City of Covington to assist with the purchase of two new police vehicles. What the heck does that have to do with economic recovery Congressman?

$445,685 to the Bland County Medical Clinic to purchase new computer and medical equipment. Who will get that contract and what kind of equipment? Why not go to Wal-Mart and buy a good computer for $500?

$344,955 to Clinch River Health Services to replace outdated equipment and purchase new equipment for their clinic in Dungannon (Scott County) which will assist the clinic in adopting an electronic medical records system. (Note there is a nearby company that may profit from this in my opinion. How about something to help residents that need medical care and not some contractor?)

While workers were "disappointed" local officials such as at NETWORKS I'm sure are happy with the continuing "right-sizing" of the local job market. More on those people below.

Virginia Congressman Rick Boucher announced that the House of Representatives has approved federal funding for two Southwest Virginia colleges. $400,000 goes to Southwest Virginia Community College for energy efficiency training to the College's construction trades program.

Boucher also helped secure $150,000 for UVA-Wise to replace the College's aging analog telephone system with a new state of the art communications system. The measures awaits Senate approval and signature by the President. No jobs are to be created nor is this expected to help anyone in need. Boucher is on record about the lack of healthcare in our region, but had no comment about funding a new telephone system for a college.

Boucher has also requested $7.4 million for the Fairwood Horse Camp in Grayson County, Virginia. This is to replace two existing horse camps that have failed to produce anything, but the new camp will be different. To quote, "The new camp would be located across the road and would provide a high quality camping experience which would not adversely affect the Fox Creek watershed. The new camp will significantly benefit Grayson County's growing tourism economy..." Sure Rick, perhaps the "disappointed" workers in our region can feel better visiting this horse manure tourism project.

As for Wise, to quote VCEDA, $2 million awarded for energy research center in Wise. To quote (March 27, 2009): "(VCEDA) today held a closing ceremony for up to $2 million in funding to the Wise County Industrial Development Authority to construct the Appalachia America Energy Research Center. At its Nov. 20, 2008 meeting, the VCEDA board approved up to a $1,045,000 grant and a $955,000 loan for the research and development facility with an emphasis on energy-affiliated initiatives.

The Wise County IDA, which received $5 million in funding for the project from the Virginia Tobacco Commission...the new center will provide research space and an atmosphere for collaboration between the public and private sector, specifically in the arena of clean coal technology, coal-to-liquid fuels, environmental remediation measures in energy generation, alternative fuels and prototype development facilities for such projects." In other words another empty building wanting for the next entity on government grants to occupy.

They did this several years ago on other grants trying to market methanol (made from coal) as a fuel additive to gasoline. It ruined a number of people's cars as the toxic chemical attacked fuel systems and ruined engines. The Bristol company went out of business and left the taxpayers spending millions to clean up the mess. The building was bought by the City for $2 million then given to a copper pot company that failed within months. Today it's partially used by a local potato chip company mostly for storage. The City today will still claim the "creation" of hundreds of jobs.

Who says just Wise, where they ignore the poor and uninsured at RAM every year, gets all the energy pork spending? Rick is requesting $4,550,000 for the Southwest Virginia Clean Coal and Renewable Energy R&D Field Lab. His explanation: "The funding is for the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center (SWVHEC in Abingdon) for equipment for a new clean energy research center."

In addition, "the Center has received more than $8 million from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to design and build a LEED Platinum field lab for research to test innovative energy processes and products. The funding will be used to equip the laboratory." Hot damn, it's going to be right next door to our $17 million taxpayer funded Artisan Center crafts shop!

Perhaps the average uninsured and under-employed citizen Mr. Boucher and Gov. Kaine are so worried about might benefit from this. Well no. Mr. Boucher announced (April 3, 2009) $500,000 will go the Southwestern Virginia Second Harvest Food Bank. To quote, "The funding would be used for the purchase and renovation of an existing building to serve as the Southwest Virginia Second Harvest Food Bank located in Abingdon, Virginia...The current facility is in poor condition and does not meet the food management compliance of the national America's Second Harvest organization." Oh no food, just better office space?

Never fear Congressman Rick is here! While Second Harvest Food Bank gets new office furniture, we can't neglect the useless Virginia Highlands Airport between Abingdon and Bristol getting $1,300,000. According to Ricky, "the funding will be for Virginia Highlands Airport for engineering services and land acquisition related to a project which will lengthen the runway at the airport. The project is necessary to further the economic development efforts of Washington County and the surrounding area."

As I was told wealthy corporate executives won't come to visit us unless we have a first class airport. It's really about getting unspecified additional federal funding. Besides local fat-cats park their private planes there while Washington County residents shell-out about $250,000 to subsidize this money losing venture. The other useless airport in nearby Marion will get $1.5 million and VA. Tech in Blacksburg will receive a whopping $3 million for new office furniture.

By the way Rick, have you checked on the poverty level in Bristol? But to quote the Bristol Herald Courier (June 11, 2008),
A third of Bristol's residents need affordable housing, said Mayor Jim Rector, and "public affordable housing is the way to go. In private housing programs, the only goal is profit, while public programs do what is best for residents."
Southwest Virginia Population decline 2010-2018.

Wellmont Wellness Center to Close

The Bristol Family YMCA will take over operation of the Wellmont Wellness Center after three years of discussions between the YMCA and Bristol Regional Medical Center. "This allows the YMCA to build on its vision to improve the overall health and fitness of the Bristol community." (Now they have a monopoly.) Beginning March 3, YMCA personnel will staff and manage the Wellness Center, located at 2000 West State St. in Bristol, Tenn...

To quote the press, "Wellness Center members will have full access to all YMCA facilities and programs, and YMCA members will have the added benefit of being able to use the Wellness Center, Ayers explains. The Wellness Center facility will close for a few days in early March to allow for the managerial transition, and it will reopen to all current Wellness Center and YMCA members March 9... All existing Wellness Center memberships will be honored under the YMCA management structure. Under the management transition plan, the YMCA will lease the Wellness Center from Bristol Regional Medical Center at the rate of $1 per year..." Ref BHC January 23, 2009.

What the press failed to mention: The dirty part about this is the members of the Wellness Center were never told about this even as they kept accepting new memberships up until the announcement. They knew very well many had left the YMCA because it has become a daycare for people to dump their kids. This is an adult center, not a kinder garden. The pools are often over-crowded and the renovations (with more planned) have created chaos. The entire staff will be fired (at the Wellness Center) in addition to over 150 other job losses at Wellmont.

More Job losses for January 2009:

General Shale Brick of Johnson City announced that they will be laying off 75 people. The production line will shut down. They make brick, block, etc. The company website is

King Pharmaceuticals of Bristol, TN will fire 72 more people, reducing its workforce to 430. This was due to loses in court over the expiration of patents for their top-selling drug Skelaxin, a muscle relaxant. Their company website is at

Note: King Pharmaceuticals is gone.

Tri-Cities Labor Market Report East Tennessee State University - Third Quarter 2014

Employment levels still falling since 2009.

Existing labor market trends dominated the Tri-Cities Consolidated Statistical Area (CSA) in the third quarter. Compared to the same period in 2013, regional employment was lower by 1.7% to 218,244, while unemployment fell 10.3% to 16,664 as discouraged job seekers continued to leave the regional labor force. The summer unemployment rate for the metro area was 7.1% (compared to 7.7% a year earlier). With the labor force shrinking by 2.4%, the falling jobless rate is a sign of labor market weakness.

Among the twelve regional NAICS industry sectors, employment levels were higher in six, lower in six, and unchanged in none (compared to six, four, and two in the second quarter). Job growth was led by construction, professional & business services, other services, and education & health services. Smaller employment gains were reported by transport & utilities, and leisure & hospitality. Major job losses occurred in retail trade, government, and manufacturing. Small employment declines were reported by wholesale trade, information services, and financial services. Overall, the private sector in the metro area saw modest job growth.

During the July to September period, employment was lower in all three cities - falling 2.2% in Kingsport, 2.0% in Johnson City, and 1.2% in Bristol. Matching the regional pattern, large numbers of unemployed workers are exiting the labor market in each city. This has lowered the jobless counts, contracted the labor force, and reduced the unemployment rates. The percent of workers unemployed was 7.0% in Kingsport, 7.1% in Johnson City, and 7.1% in Bristol. As in the metro area, the lower rates in each city reflect labor market weakness.


Back to History, Causes of Poverty in Southwest Virginia

To quote Lenowisco Broadband Study Warned against Call Centers (PDF file):

"The region has been replacing traditional (better paying) manufacturing jobs with (low paying subsidized) call center jobs, which provide limited advancement and work opportunities. Call centers represent the factory floor of the Knowledge Economy; they are an important part of a diversified economic development strategy, but the region must be careful not to rely too heavily on them, as the work is easily moved to other regions and/or other countries."

Lenowisco Broadband Study Warned against Call Centers (PDF file)

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