Bristol Chamber hosts annual celebration

A panel discussion occurs Jan. 19 in Bristol, Va. From left are Vice President for small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tom Sullivan, President of Friendship Automotive Mitch Walters and Union 41 chef Torrece Gregoire. Photo by Earl Neikirk

By A.J. Kaufman, Managing Editor

On a snowy winter day in Bristol, Va., roughly 300 people gathered inside the Delta Hotels by Marriott to celebrate Bristol at the annual awards celebration.

A major focus of the two-hour gathering of regional business leaders, politicians, academics, media and others was promoting Bristol’s entrepreneurial spirit — specifically the Made in Bristol program — increasing communication, celebrating free enterprise, small business success and ensuring their sustainability.

Attendees listened to a keynote speech from Tom Sullivan, vice president for small business policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, followed by a panel discussion on economic development and business entrepreneurship with local leaders, including President and Founder of Friendship Automotive Mitch Walters; Union 41 owner Chef Torrece Gregoire; and United Co. Vice President and General Counsel Jason Eige.

Sullivan spoke about small businesses’ anxiety over inflation and also the vital role they played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Small businesses solve problems,” he claimed at one point.

Walters stressed the importance of retaining quality employees, especially younger ones.

Eige, who is part of the group managing the Bristol Casino and future Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, noted the perils of government regulation and its micromanaging of small businesses.

A Caribbean native raised in New York City, Gregoire expressed her appreciation for being embraced by the community.

“I can go anywhere, but there’s something different here,” she said. “I feel like we are on the cusp of this growth because of the people and the mindset.”

The event concluded with a passing the gavel ceremony, specifically from 2023 Chairman of the Board Dr. Chad Couch of Ballad Health to new Chairman William Burriss III, chief financial officer at BurWil Construction.

Couch shared a year in review about the chamber’s various accomplishments.

Bristol native Burriss spoke about carrying on the legacy of past chairmen and the area’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“Let’s continue to encourage, support and diversify our business economy,” Burriss concluded and boasted of Bristol’s legacy of pride.

More than a century old, the Bristol Chamber of Commerce holds a five-star accreditation from the United States Chamber of Commerce — something fewer than 2% of all chambers in America hold — and is the oldest accredited chamber in Tennessee.

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