A Hard Rock Executive and Entrepreneur Share Tips for Success | News

WISE – The economic profile north of Bristol’s casino may be “Viva Southwest Virginia” based on comments by panelists at the SWVA Economic Forum on Wednesday at UVA Wise.

Virginia Economic Development Partnership CEO Jason Cuban and a panel that included Hard Rock Casino and the Bristol Alley Evangelista Hotel presented their views on the region’s economy two years after the COVID-19 pandemic to an in-person audience of approximately 180 business and tourism leaders and UVA Wise employees.

Cuban, in his introductory presentation on the state of the region, said Southwest Virginia has done better than the state overall in regaining jobs lost during the pandemic. He said the westernmost eight counties and city saw employment levels 0.4 percent higher in March than in February 2020, while all of Virginia stand at 3.3 percent below February 2020 levels.

Cuban said that while rural Virginia was expected to lag urban areas by up to three years in employment recovery, rural areas are converging with urban areas.

Cuban said rural areas could look forward to more government assistance in boosting job growth. He said UVA Wise’s technological talent investment could help increase graduate numbers in computer technology fields, while the country’s current plans to make broadband available globally by 2024 would also help attract companies and improve the ability to work remotely.

“The difference between decline and growth is often just a few hundred jobs,” Cuban told the audience.

Later in the forum, Evangelista joined Virginia Tourism CEO Rita McClinney and entrepreneur Karen Hester of Bristol to discuss the potential and actual impact across southwest Virginia from the temporary Bristol Casino opening in July and the permanent Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opening in 2024.

McClane said data from similar casino and hotel openings suggest that 42% of visitors will visit historic areas during casino trips, with 35% visiting museums and attractions and 40% coming from outside areas for work or vacation.

McClinney added that the opening of Hard Rock will have a “hub and talk” effect on the area from casino visitors wanting to experience the natural, musical and other attractions of southwest Virginia.

With the initial casino opening in 42 days, Evangelista said Hard Rock will hire up to 700 workers for the initial phase. She added that local vendors would also be critical to the casino’s success, with the needs of bread makers, groundskeepers, restaurants, bedding suppliers and more.

Evangelista said the need for staff, vendors and suppliers will increase with the opening of the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel Bristol by mid-2024, with nearly 1,500 staff needed overall. She added that potential sellers could find out more on the Bristol Casino webpage.

Hester, owner of home décor store Cranberry Lane and candy maker The Southern Churn, told the Forum she found herself a hard rock seller when a company delegation touring Bristol looking for potential locations came to Southern Churn in 2019 and sampled the store’s candy.

Since that visit, Hester said, Southern Churn has now been supplying Hard Rock operations in Florida, Cincinnati and Gary, Indiana, with the fudge after expanding its production.

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“We’ve made 150,000 pounds of bullshit in seven years,” Hester added.

Through her work at Hard Rock Casinos, Hester said she was able to hire more employees and spread the word about the sellers’ opportunities. She added that the supply of labor was a concern to her, and anyone considering building or expanding a business in search of a Hard Rock business needs to consider how to attract and retain their workforce.

Hester also noted the need for potential sellers to form secure supply chain partnerships if they want to become hard rock sellers. She noted her own experience in finding a reliable supply of eggs, butter, and sugar to produce the fudge.

Hester added that people who decide to retire early from the workforce may find new business opportunities as the casino demands sellers.

“We know (Hard Rock) will bring tourism to the area,” Hester said, adding that home and property owners can take advantage of the need for short-term rentals for incoming casino visitors. She pointed to her other job, Operation Vacation Rentals, as another opportunity she found. She added that the demand for rentals could mean that landlords in areas as far away as Wise County could take advantage of the tourist rental market.

“Maybe I was on the fence about starting a business,” Hester said. “It’s safe to say that no business is too small to handle Hard Rock.”

Evangelista said there is a housing shortage in the area and opportunity for homebuilders and renters. She pointed to a team of 11 Hard Rock executives for the Bristol operation, either renting or buying homes in the area.

As for the casino’s regional impact, Evengelista said the Bristol operation is a 90-minute drive from the nearest potential competitor. This translates to a similar radius where guests may decide to visit attractions during their stay.

Evangelista said the proximity to Tri-Cities Airport means the area has one strong transportation asset along with driving access via Interstate 81.

“We want people to be able to take a non-stop flight to Bristol and see what the area can offer,” McClinney added.

McClane said Hard Rock’s presence in Bristol also means a reason to bring a commuter railroad to Bristol and East Tennessee.

“If there’s a coalition in your area to bring Amtrak here, sign up,” Hester added.

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