Southwest Virginia Population decline 2010-2018.

Barter Theatre Money Woes Exposes Tourism Hype

Lewis Loflin

Update September 2019: due to mismanagement Barter has posed another $500,000 loss. Tourism is down 16%.

Millions of tax dollars have been diverted away from education and healthcare to promote so-called tourism development. The funds in fact serve was bailouts for the basket case tourism venues and to fill the pockets of promoters.

While they try to blame recent economic downturns, the fact is these venues have been on taxpayer life support for years. It seems the more money pumped into tourism promotion, the less the return. No better example of this is the Barter Theatre's own words.

The big panic hit for Barter Theatre when the Virginia House of Delegates had proposed slicing the Virginia Commission for the Arts budget by half in fiscal year 2011, then eliminating it altogether in 2012. According to (3/16/2010),

...the commission will receive $4.1 million in state money beginning July 1 and $4.1 million in the following year...Arts organizations serve as catalysts for downtown revitalization and anchors for tourism throughout the state, Baggett says. The commission already has suffered budget reductions of around 30 percent since 2008...The current 15-percent cut amounts to about $670,000 more, scheduled to go into effect this year. At best, it's a bittersweet victory...

The Barter Theatre went into panic mode. They released the following ( Nov. 22, 2009):

We have seen an increase in patrons from within the local market who might normally travel out of the region for entertainment. We have seen, as throughout the U.S., a shift away from tourism and more toward the local market.

Barter has been able to successfully plan for the economic downturn. All economic indicators told us that 2009 was going to be a challenge. In preparation, we cut our budget by 20% and selected a season of shows that we felt would have great appeal. Reducing your budget by 20% is painful, but it is far better to plan carefully than to be caught unprepared mid-year. It's the difference between being proactive and reactive.

As a result of cuts, Barter has lost about 20 year-round positions since this time last year. (Nov. 22, 2009) Some positions were laid-off, and others have been lost through attrition. In addition, each department made reductions along the way. We lost artistic, technical and administrative staff.

This has meant that Barter's remaining staff has had to work even harder with fewer resources and less support personnel in order to adjust. That being said, as a theater there are only so many positions that we can cut. Our design teams, technicians, and actors are all required. You cannot automate live theater.

But we were told before all the grants were handed out that tourism was growing and attracting outside visitors! And Barter has been getting bailouts for some time from the Virginia Tobacco Commission under the guise of "industrial development" and money from other agencies.

The simple fact is Barter Theatre is an economic basket case and needs to shut the doors instead of diverting tax dollars from real economic development, schools, and healthcare these funds should have went for.

But it isn't just Barter Theatre that was floated on tax dollars that's in trouble, other tourism venues have been entirely invented with tax dollars and are now failing. Updated April 2, 2011.

About Barter Theatre

The Barter Theatre, located in Abingdon, Virginia, opened on June 10, 1933. It is one of the longest running professional theatres in the nation. In 1933, when the country was in the middle of the Great Depression, most patrons were not able to pay the full ticket price. Robert Porterfield, founder of the theatre, offered admittance by letting the local people pay with food goods, hence the name "Barter".

In 1946, Barter Theatre was designated the State Theatre of Virginia. Many well-known stars of stage, screen and television have launched their careers at Barter, including Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal, Ned Beatty, Hume Cronyn, Gary Collins, Frances Fisher, Kevin Spacey, Larry Linville and Wayne Knight. On The Lot winner Will Bigham acted at Barter Theatre for many years before pursuing a film career alongside his wife Catherine Gray.

In 2008 the Barter Theatre celebrated its 75th anniversary. Located in the wealthiest community in Southwest, Virginia, it's part of a vast system of taxpayer-funded amusement parks for the local rich. It was also in financial trouble even with taxpayer bailouts.

Since 2008 the Barter Theatre has had endless financial problems due to decreasing government handouts.

Please support the Barter Theatre. Visit their website at

Note that minimum wage in 1970 was $1.60 adjusted for inflation is $10.46 in 2018. That is what I call adjusted minimum wage. Assuming one even gets 40 per week that's for 52 weeks that equals $21,756. Per capita income in Bristol Virginia 2018 is $21,589. It is similar to this across the whole region.

Third world? Some have called us the China of America minus jobs.

Just a few of hundreds of plant closings see Smyth County the China of America loses jobs.

Tri-Cities labor market 2007-2016.

Update September 3, 2019. Based on data from Dr. Steb Hipple economist at East Tennessee State University (retired), his data goes to the 3rd. quarter of 2016. The level of job losses is Tri-Cities is staggering, worse than what even I thought.

(The Tri-Cities Consolidated Statistical Area is composed of the Kingsport/Bristol MSA and the Johnson City MSA.).

The Bristol TN-VA, Kingsport, and Johnson City Urbanized Area Labor Market lost thousands of jobs shrinking the labor force that shrank the unemployment rates. The above table shows a decline of labor force by almost 18,000. But it gets worse.

Includes: Johnson City, TN, Carter County, Unicoi County, Washington County.
All workers BLS:
2016 78,140 workers, Median hourly wage $14.47, Annual $40,140
2018 77,020 workers, Median hourly wage $15.38, Annual $42,740
Labor force fell 1120 jobs in 2 years.

Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA MSA includes: Bristol city, VA, Hawkins County, TN, Scott County, VA, Sullivan County, TN, Washington County, VA.

All workers BLS:
2016: 118,470, Median hourly wage $15.27, Annual $41,050
2018: 116,150, Median hourly wage $16.50, Annual $43,480
Labor force fell 2,320 in 2 years.

That's not the worst of it still. For Tri-Cities the total labor force is 193,170. The labor force shrank by 3,440 jobs in 2 years - during a so-called boom. In 2009 the labor force was 247,965, minus 193,170 equals a staggering loss of 54,795 less people are working in 2019 than in 2009!.

I can't believe this myself. Anyone working here knows it is bad. That could be explained by high poverty and disability rates, and large numbers of retirees leaving the labor force. I don't know because a lot of data is hidden from the public. But makes sense when we look at the national labor force declines.


Lewis Loflin


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