Media Truth

Bristol Virginia Spends Millions for Jobs Gets Nothing

by Lewis Loflin

For some time I've warned on these pages about over dependence on government money as the mainstay of the region's economy. This is behind most of the political corruption as politicians and unelected boards (appointed by same politicians) rigidly control who reaps the benefits - and it's not the general public.

Bristol Herald Courier is reporting councilman Jim Steele won't seek re-election due to infighting on the Council. Good riddance to him - he cites the millions of tax dollars he has wasted as a great accomplishment:

Steele cited economic development efforts, including securing new restaurants and a hotel at Interstate 81's Exit 7, a new Food City store on Bob Morrison Boulevard and a proposed hotel and Quaker Steak restaurant downtown as the accomplishments he is most proud of. He also mentioned the ongoing expansion at the Shearer's snack plant. He is guardedly optimistic about The Falls project being developed near I-81 Exit 5.

But it's not a new damn Food City store they moved across the street! That's the same Food City that got $6 million in corporate welfare (economic development grants) to move their offices within the Town of Abingdon. More restaurants when we are saturated with them?

Snack Alliance (formerly Moore's then Wise Foods) then became Shearer's and every ownership change was followed by a new corporate welfare package. Yet every time they changed the sign and rehired the same people - at lower pay - City government proclaimed new jobs or jobs saved. Number of new jobs - zero.

He did nothing for the Shearer's snack plant - it simply changes names every few years - then collects a fortune in incentives. None of this will produce good jobs and involves mostly relocating or displacing existing business. It's simply insane in a poor community such as this divided by the Virginia-Tennessee state line to be at war with each other to pilfer the others retailers to collect sales tax revenue.

This is how Bristol Tennessee is misusing over $25 million in public funds to underwrite the Pinnacle just down the road from the existing Bristol Mall on the Virginia side of the line - Belk has already bolted to the Pinnacle and J.C Penny just announced they are slamming the doors on Bristol - another 35 jobs down the toilet. The remaining Sears and down the road K-Mart are from news reports on their death beds. At a time when mall traffic is way down according to reports from Fox and CNN these fools are plowing in millions.

Not to be outdone Bristol Virginia is misusing at least $65 million for a development called The Falls. This involves literally cutting down a mountain for the project. This is virtually in sight of their massive and costly retail developments at Exit 7 where for example they paid $225,000 in economic development grants to a Red Lobster and a $3 million on an earlier development that went bust. As of 2014 a hotel is going in and you guessed it - they got an incentive package of $300,000.

Lowe's which sits just across the County line in Washington County is jumping just down the road to the new Falls development - nobody will say how much they will be getting under the table. This stirred earlier fears of threats of another lawsuit from Washington County over the deal, but some unknown agreement behind closed doors averted that. Bristol Virginia is supposed to pay Washington County $300,000 a year for seven years - the deal is still not agreed on.

All of that is supposed to be paid for in some elaborate sales tax kickback scam from Virginia Taxpayers. (The same on the Tennessee side.) In other words Bristol Virginia, Bristol Tennessee, and Washington County are in a bidding war to pilfer each others retailers just to collect sales taxes. That's what goes for economic development here - relocating-displacing each others retailers.

Several years ago Bristol Virginia and Washington County Virginia were locked in a bitter dispute over the Clear Creek development. These asses were in a bidding war to see who could shower the developer with the most taxpayer goodies. This ended up in court costing local taxpayers $2.5 million in legal fees and led to the forced expulsion of 50 poor families from a trailer park. The project failed and moved about a mile down the road into Washing County on Lee Highway. They got a taxpayer check for $7 million and we got a Target Store.

Everything that is done here is to keep the money in what I call the government loop - our local government operate like third world dictatorships. In particular on the Virginia side anything related to economic development is barred from public disclosure - the meeting are conducted in closed session with no record keeping. The public is barred from finding what became of the money given away to developers and non-profits - the FOIA doesn't apply to non-government organizations even when publicly funded.

Economic data such as how many jobs were created in particular industries, companies, etc. is also barred from public disclosure. So if we give Target $7 million and promised 2000 new jobs that information is available only to those that gave away the money. Non-profits many existing only on government grants refuse to disclose their IRS paperwork - and the IRS won't enforce it. I know I've tried. The Virginia Employment Commission refuses to release employment data other than state averages. This is how third-world nations operate.

Update January 2014: Target has announced all their part-time employees are being thrown off the company health care program onto Obamacare. Being that it's likely most of their employees are part-time then it's another sorry deal and more poverty.