Media Truth

Fourth quarter Job Disaster in Tri-Cities Bristol Virginia-Tennessee

by Lewis Loflin

WCYB Channel 5 3-12-2014 Retails sales Bristol dropped 12.9 percent to $260 million.

Bristol Virginia-Tennessee has pinned it's future on retail development, tourism, and retirement industries. These are among the lowest paid and least stable jobs out there. They leave a labor force largely under-employed and underpaid. It contributes to the continuing out-migration of our young people.

This comes at a time when Bristol Virginia, Bristol Tennessee, and Washington County Virginia are engaged in a bitter retail war. All sides backed by ten of millions in government funding are attempting to lure each other's retailers to cross the state-county lines. None of these local government care anything about the terrible plight of the working poor. They only want each others sales tax revenue to pay for pet projects.

Let's look at the figures. Loss of $33.54 million in Bristol for the 4th quarter is part of growing trend. From economist Steb Hipple at ETSU:

Retail performance in the three cities was very weak during the critical holiday selling season. Dollar sales increased only 0.4% in Johnson City to $531 million. Kingsport sales were unchanged at $408 million while Bristol sales plunged 12.9 percent to $260 million...In terms of dollar sales, Kingsport retailing rose 2.1 percent to $1,522 million.

Sales were also higher in Johnson City by 0.3 percent to $1,916 million, but decreased 7.9 percent in Bristol to $1,002 million. Adjusted for inflation, the annual sales volume increased 0.6 percent in Kingsport, but fell 1.2 percent in Johnson City and 9.2 percent in Bristol.

Labor Downturn Again - During the Christmas hiring season!

During the October to December period, the Tri-Cities metro area suffered the largest job losses since the recession year of 2009. Compared to the same period in 2012, regional job levels were lower by 2.6 percent to 224,023 while unemployment rose 0.4 percent to 16,742. Employment has now declined for the past seven quarters.

The jobless rate for the Tri-Cities Consolidated Statistical Area (CSA) was 7.0 percent, compared to 6.8 percent a year earlier. This marks the third quarter of higher unemployment levels.

The annual data for 2013 reflect the growing weakness in the labor market. Employment in the metro area decreased by 1.6 percent to 225,589, well below the figures for 2011 and 2012. However, the number of jobless workers only increased 0.5 percent to 18,157, while the unemployment rate was relatively steady at 7.5 percent.

The disparity between job losses and the small change in unemployment conditions is due to a large number of workers leaving the regional labor market, as shown in the 1.4 percent drop in the labor force to 243,746.

Among the twelve regional NAICS industry sectors, employment levels were higher in six, lower in four, and unchanged in two (compared to five, six, and one in the third quarter). Job growth was led by leisure & hospitality, professional & business services, construction, and retail trade. Other services and government saw smaller employment gains.

Job losses occurred in information services, wholesale trade, finance, and manufacturing. Employment was unchanged in transport & utilities, and education & health services.


Now let's look at the last paragraph from above. Construction is up mainly due to I believe massive government funded retail projects in Bristol. One is the Pinnacle being built in Bristol Tennessee near I81 exit 1.

At least $25 million of that project is coming from taxpayers and will feature a Bass Pro Shop. This will empty the present Bristol Mall on the Virginia side of the line. Park's Belk has already committed to jump the state line while J.C. Penney will close for good.

Yet on I81 Exit 5 Bristol Virginia has committed to spending perhaps $100 million to underwrite The Falls development. The City of Bristol Virginia is already nearly $100 million in debt and the project is running behind.

This project will be anchored on a Cabela's in direct competition with Bass Pro Shop at Exit 1. Lowe's at Exit 7 in Washington County plans to jump the County line for the new shopping center. The Pinnacle developer sent lobbyists to Richmond to fight The Falls development.

At this time the only other stores committed to the project are two restaurants and a convenience store. City leaders are hailing these as proof of economic revitalization for Bristol. Yet this has created friction with Washington County Virginia I'll get to shortly.

Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe has intervened to bailout the project with the diversion-theft of tens of millions of Virginia tax dollars. The funds are being taken from education and public services to buy off Cabela's. Who says Republicans are the kings of corporate welfare?

McAuliffe spokeswoman Rachel Thomas said the governor called Cabela's CEO Thomas Millner "to assure him of Virginia's commitment to their company and their presence."

Quoting Democrat Sen. Phil Puckett: "This is important to all of Southwest Virginia. We are trying to achieve a level playing field for the city of Bristol, Va., because of two major developments being built within miles of each other. Without this, we don't think they have it and will lose considerable development to Tennessee."

Yet these people claim on both sides of the State line each project will create thousands of new jobs. Really? Government - you just can't fix stupid.

Ref. Gov. McAuliffe helps bailout The Falls project in Bristol Bristol Herald Courier February 28, 2014

BVU Misuses $150,000 in ARC Economic Development Funds for Concert

In August 2012 during the period Bristol was losing both jobs and retail sales Mumford & Sons held a concert for more than 15,000 the press is claiming. Yet the deal was another example of privatizing profits and socializing costs:

In August 2012, both cities, the nonprofit Birthplace of Country Music and Believe in Bristol collaborated with A-C Entertainment to host Mumford & Sons and other groups in a day-long concert at the municipal parking lot near the Bristol train station. The event generated ticket sales of 17,000.

The Mumford & Sons event brought in about $1.8 million and a profit of about $500,000 for promoter A-C Entertainment...The city incurred about $25,000 in employee costs for security and cleanup but wasn't fully compensated...

Ref. Bristol Herald Courier February 24, 2014. Yet while the promoter and the non-profits made a fortune it did nothing for jobs or poverty problem. Yet Bristol Virginia is now facing a shortfall of over $500,000 in its school system in 2014 while spending tens of millions on Cabela's and music concerts.

Yet Bristol Virginia Utilities (BVU) is under a criminal investigation over employee misuse of company credit cards. It's former CEO Wes Rosenbaum left suddenly with a $275,000 parting gift from the BVU Board much to the outrage of the public.

Yet this misuse of economic development money is supported by the city's Economic Development Committee. These are the same idiots behind the Falls fiasco and the $25,000 in taxpayer loses on the 2012 concert. EDC Chairman and BVU board member Jim Clifton says,

"Here is a chance to tie in with the opening of the BCM [museum]. Here's a chance to get another 20,000 or 30,000 people back to Bristol to visit downtown, to go to the museum, to stay in local hotels.

This isn't something BVU ought to do as a regular basis but Economic Development looked at it as a possible one-time scenario to get Bristol on this guy's tour schedule - 18 No. 1 records. It's a tremendous opportunity. I think it ties in with Bristol's image and it's on the Virginia side."

The BVU Board said yes with two members Archie Hubbard and Doug Fleenor saying no. "It's not because I'm not for it. I just don't think we should be in the promotion business. It's not a utility function," Hubbard said.

Some of this requires further explanations for those lucky enough not to reside here. This Birthplace of Country Music Museum was once in the Bristol Mall and was such a failure they couldn't pay their rent as I was told by one employee. Taxpayers spent almost $12 million (ARC, Tobacco, Agriculture funds) to refurbish a wrecked garage.

They simply moved from the Bristol Mall to downtown. They are within sight of the Bristol Trainstation ($6 million wasted on that project) claiming it too will draw tens of thousands of tourists. Then what do we need the concert for? They have no business plan except more government grants and are projected to create at most eight jobs.

I also need to clarify the false claim of Bristol being the "birthplace" of country music. That is a marketing scam to secure government grants. There were a few recordings done in Bristol in the 1920s or 1930s, but as an industry the birthplace of country music was in Nashville not Bristol.