The year 2023 was eventful for Southwest and Southside Virginia, with the opening of temporary casinos, the expansion of broadband access, and the development of new industries. As 2024 begins, here are some of the questions that will shape the future of these regions.
Will the permanent casinos boost the local economy?
Two of the four cities that approved casino gambling in 2020, Bristol and Danville, opened their temporary casinos in 2023. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol and the Caesars Virginia in Danville have brought in more than $270 million in gaming revenue in 2023, according to the Virginia Lottery. Both cities are expecting to open their permanent casino resorts in 2024, which will offer more amenities, such as hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and meeting spaces. The permanent casinos are expected to create thousands of jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue for the cities and the state. The question is whether the casinos will also attract more visitors, businesses, and investments to the regions, and how they will impact the existing sectors, such as tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing.
How will broadband expansion improve the quality of life?
One of the challenges that Southwest and Southside Virginia have faced for years is the lack of reliable and affordable broadband internet access. According to a 2020 report by the Commonwealth Connect Coalition, about 20% of households in these regions did not have broadband access, compared to 10% statewide. The pandemic highlighted the importance of broadband for remote work, education, health care, and social services. In 2023, several initiatives were launched to expand broadband access in these regions, such as the Virginia Telecommunication Initiative, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the American Rescue Plan Act. These initiatives provided grants and funding to local governments, internet service providers, and community organizations to build and improve broadband infrastructure and affordability. The question is how will broadband expansion improve the quality of life and opportunities for the residents, especially in rural areas, and how will it foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the regions.
What new industries will emerge and grow in the regions?
Southwest and Southside Virginia have been undergoing economic transitions for decades, as traditional industries, such as coal mining, tobacco farming, and textile manufacturing, have declined. In recent years, the regions have seen the emergence and growth of new industries, such as renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, and cybersecurity. For example, in 2023, Microsoft announced a $60 million investment to build a solar farm in Pittsylvania County, creating 250 jobs. Also, in 2023, the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center opened a new facility in Abingdon, offering office and lab space for startups and established companies in fields such as health care, engineering, and information technology. The question is what new industries will emerge and grow in the regions in 2024, and how will they leverage the existing assets, such as natural resources, educational institutions, and workforce skills.