Annual Report


ABINGDON, VA – The Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Friends of Southwest Virginia have released their 2017 Annual Report which outlines the regional economic impact of the tourism economy and spotlights economic, community and tourism development initiatives, regional marketing and branding and updates to Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway.

The report shows an increase of more than 56% in tourism spending throughout Southwest Virginia since 2004.

Southwest Virginia includes 19 counties, four independent cities and 54 towns located on the southern and western border of Virginia. Its 8,600 square miles – more than a fifth of Virginia’s total – is located along mountain ridges and in fertile valleys with two national parks, nine state parks and over a thousand square miles of national and state forests. The region is filled with innovators, artists and musicians.

To capitalize on these cultural and natural assets and in response to rapidly declining employment in Southwest Virginia’s historically prominent industries of farming, mining, and manufacturing, leaders around the region began to invest in developing the creative economy in the mid-2000s.

The Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation was established in 2008 by the Virginia General Assembly to serve as the lead in developing a creative economy in Southwest Virginia through cultural and natural assets. Through a supporting non-profit, the Friends of Southwest Virginia, the regional team works as one organization to help localities, non-profits and entrepreneurs mobilize and succeed. Partner organizations include The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail and ‘Round the Mountain Artisan Network along with support from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. The complex nature of this model of public / private partnership is reflective of the complex economic issues in Southwest Virginia that the organization tackles on a daily basis.

The creative economy movement is defined by innovative business development techniques finding success without reliance on the limited resources of land, labor and capital. From the arts and music of the region to the natural assets capitalized through tourism, the joint work of the Foundation and the non-profit is revolutionizing the rural economic development system of Southwest Virginia and providing thousands of new jobs through small business to the people of this region.

The organization reports that a study from the U.S. Travel Association and Virginia Tourism Corporation shows that tourism spending in the region has grown by $363 million from 2004 to 2016, the most recent year that statistics are available. Tourism impact throughout the region exceeded $1 billion for the first time in history; in comparison, tourism expenditures were only $648.9 million in 2004.

Additionally, local tax revenues have increased by 46.51% and state tax revenues by 41.06% in the same time period. The upward trend in these travel related tax revenues has an impact at the local level through increasing meals and lodging tax revenues in the region’s towns. Overall employment in SWVA has dropped by 2.3% since 2001, but employment in the leisure and hospitality industry sector has increased by 14%.

“The work of the Foundation and Friends is truly a collaborative of the incredible leadership of our counties, cities and towns that are innovating their business eco-system through the creative economy,” said Chris Cannon, executive director of the Foundation and Friends of Southwest Virginia.

In addition to the significant increase in overall tourism impact, the report details current developments underway to increase future economic impact.

“Several years ago, visionaries across the region saw the potential of creative economy development using our natural assets – our unrivaled mountains, rivers, lakes, streams and fields,” said Cannon.

Since 2014, the SWVA Outdoors initiative has recruited millions in grant funding to develop tourism around 8 anchor areas: Mount Rogers, Appalachian Trail, Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail, Clinch River, New River, Blue Ridge Parkway, Breaks Interstate Park and High Knob.

Planning and construction projects are underway throughout the region to enhance and develop key natural assets. From the future construction of a new parking lot for Devil’s Bathtub in Scott County and a River Destination Center in Giles County to master planning for the High Knob region, these projects will all improve tourism through access to regional assets while protecting and preserving their natural significance.

Funding partners in these 16 development projects touching all of Southwest Virginia include the Commonwealth of Virginia, Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Appalachian Regional Commission, U.S. Economic Development Administration, Virginia Tourism Corporation and several private foundations.

In addition to the development initiatives, the organization serves as an official Destination Marketing Organization for the region. The SWVA brand introduced in 2016 has grown and developed over the past two years through aggressive marketing initiatives.

“Our social media following has exploded, but look for an increased presence across all digital platforms in 2018 as we improve and expand our marketing initiatives to share Southwest Virginia with the world,“ said Jenna Wagner, Director of Marketing.

The organization also operates and manages Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway located just off I-81 in Abingdon. The facility opened in 2011 to showcase and retail regional art through ‘Round the Mountain, present regional music through The Crooked Road, and serve as a destination center for the entire region. The report details that visitation and the sales of regional craft has increased over 2016.

“Heartwood was built to be a gateway to the entire Southwest Virginia region and visitor intercept studies conducted this fall showed us that over 60% of people who walked through the doors of Heartwood were inspired to get in their car and visit another community in Southwest Virginia,” said Cannon.

To access the full Annual Report, visit: Annual Report.

For more information on the SWVA Cultural Heritage Foundation and Friends of Southwest Virginia, visit[/text][clear by=”15px” id=”” class=””]