A Message from VADA President and CEO Don Hall
During my career, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Southwest Virginia, but mostly for a dealership meeting, a quick lunch before another meeting, and a long drive back home.
In late July, I along with Richmond Delegate and soon-to-be Senator John McGuire were invited by Tazewell Senator Travis Hackworth to pay a true visit to the region and really experience all Southwest Virginia has to offer.
Our many great Southwest Virginia lawmakers, the Senator among them, have long supported Virginia’s auto dealers as some of their most fierce and ardent advocates, backing legislation to improve your business and ultimately contribute to your own and your employees’ quality of life. Many of our dealer members in Southwest Virginia have had dealerships there for generations, and today are helping hold up a region that has grappled with the loss of the coal and manufacturing industries over the last few decades.
In our 48 hours with Senator Hackworth, we experienced the growing “adventure tourism” industry that Southwest is becoming known for — we took ATVs off-road, toured an old coal mine, visited several neighborhoods with historic mansions, and rented three-wheeled Slingshots to run the beautiful Route 15, known as the “Back of the Dragon.” It’s so named as Virginia’s only designated motorcycle route, with 32 miles of winding roads around mountain ranges with awesome views.
We met many fine, longtime residents of Southwest. We heard the Senator’s own vision for the region, where he fights to protect coal, create jobs, improve roads, and secure funding for education. (He is also a successful homebuilder and entrepreneur, and has many professional qualities that are shared by our dealers).
Here in the state capitol, many of us are guilty of concentrating our political and economic discussions around Central Virginia, Northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads. They are our largest tax and population bases, for sure. We have a tendency to forget anywhere that isn’t along the 95 or 64 corridors.
But Southwest contributes mightily to our state, and to our dealers. Indeed, we are a Commonwealth of Virginia, and Southwest has much to offer all of us to the east.
So that is my plea to you: Go west. I encourage Virginia’s auto dealers to consider hosting your next management meeting in Southwest. Schedule a retreat there. Plan a family trip in 2024. Take advantage of the unique experiences that only this region can offer.
You’ll be glad you did, and wonder why you didn’t do so before.
Resources to start your trip:
Southwest Virginia background, compiled from the groups noted above:
Southwest Virginia’s manufacturing, mining, and agriculture employment has steadily dropped over the last four decades, while at the same time, tourism has exploded. This growth has been deliberate: leaders in Southwest saw the decline, and began investing in tourism in the mid-2000s. Encompassing one-fifth of all land in Virginia, the 8,600-square-mile Southwest includes 19 counties, four cities, and 54 towns along mountain ridges and valleys. It boasts are two national and nine state parks across 1,000 square miles. In 2021, visitor spending to Southwest totaled more than $1.03 billion and generated $49.2 million in local taxes. Tourism now supports around 10,000 jobs, according to the nonprofit Friends of Southwest Virginia.