A rendering of the proposed Las Vegas ballpark. Courtesy of Major League Baseball.
A rendering of the proposed Las Vegas ballpark. Courtesy of Major League Baseball.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once likened states to “laboratories of democracy” — his exact quote was “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country” — but sometimes those lab experiments spill over into neighboring states.

Here are some things that are happening in other states that might have an impact in Virginia.

1. Maryland has legalized the retail sale of cannabis.

We used to call that marijuana or pot or weed or sometimes even the devil’s lettuce, although cannabis is the preferred term now. Whatever it’s called, you can now buy it on the other side of the Potomac, as of July 1. That potentially matters to us because Virginia has legalized personal possession of the aforementioned reefer but still prohibits the sale of the stuff. Democrats, who legalized personal possession when they controlled the General Assembly, had planned to come back in 2022 to set up the rules for a retail market — but voters in 2021 installed a Republican House of Delegates (and a Republican governor) and since then nothing has happened. It’s not as simple as Democrats being for a retail market and Republicans being against one, although some certainly are. It’s more of a three-way conflict, because some Republicans of a more libertarian bent seem to be OK with a retail market but have very different ideas from Democrats about who should get licenses. In any case, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has now signaled his opposition, so no Republican is likely to take the time to push for retail sales if they know their party’s governor is against it. In any case, Virginians can now drive into Maryland and buy their weed. Granted, that’s easier for someone from Great Falls than someone from Grundy. One argument for allowing retail sales is the tax revenue the state could collect — after all, sales are happening now, they’re just happening on the black market. Will the prospect of pot-crazed Virginians helping fund the Maryland treasury prompt any movement on legalizing retail sales in the Old Dominion?

2. North Carolina may open a casino just south of Martinsville.

It’s no accident that the three casinos now open in Virginia are all along the southern border — Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth. Yes, those are all cities in need of an economic boost, but they’re also near the state line and expect to draw visitors from next door. Some in North Carolina aren’t happy about that. A conservative group in North Carolina recently released a study that found the state might lose $259 million a year to casinos in Danville and Hampton Roads. The Senate Republican leader in North Carolina, Phil Berger, told WNCN-TV in Goldsboro, North Carolina, that he’d recently visited the casino in Danville and estimated that 80% of the cars in the parking lot had North Carolina plates. Now the North Carolina legislature is considering a measure to allow up to four new casinos in the state (besides the ones already operating on tribal lands).

Rockingham County, North Carolina. Courtesy of David Benbennick.
Rockingham County, North Carolina. Courtesy of David Benbennick.

One of those localities that might be authorized for a casino is Berger’s home county of Rockingham County, just south of our Henry County. A developer with casino ties has already filed to rezone almost 200 acres of land along (although the planning commission recently recommended against that). That site is 17.9 miles south of the Virginia state line, 30.5 miles south of Martinsville and 49.5 miles southwest of Danville. I’m sure our casinos have factored in the possibility of competition. After all, the fight in Virginia has been whether Richmond or Petersburg should get authorization to have a casino. (Just this week a judge signed off on a second referendum in Richmond, which had previously voted no.) I’m more curious about this: What would a casino just over the state line in North Carolina mean for Martinsville and Henry County? Maybe nothing. But it would put those communities close to not just one but two casinos. 

3. Tennessee is pushing for a federally designated regional tech hub just over the line from Southwest Virginia.

A brief recap on tech hubs: The CHIPS and Science Act that Congress passed, and President Joe Biden signed, last year authorizes the U.S. Commerce Department to designate at least 20 places around the country as “regional tech hubs” to get showered with federal research and development dollars. The goal is to spread the nation’s technology sector more broadly around the country. The legislation specifies a certain number of hubs in each Economic Development Administration zone, and Tennessee is in a different one from Virginia, so we’re not formally in competition with Tennessee. (Instead, we’re in competition with states north to Maine.) Still, I’m sure federal officials can read a map. Southwest Virginia is joining with Lynchburg in a nuclear energy-related bid (Lynchburg has a concentration of nuclear firms; Southwest Virginia has lots of land and wants to be known as an energy capital, not just coal country.) The Tri-Cities of Tennessee — their Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City — are putting together a bid based on synthetic biology. Are federal officials going to think that those two places are too close together? On the plus side, if Tri-Cities won a tech hub designation, what sort of spinoff potential might there be on this side of the state line?

4. Tennessee is also pushing for a tech hub focused on the same topic that Lynchburg and Southwest Virginia are.

Knoxville is making a bid based on nuclear energy, tied in with nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the nuclear facilities there. Meanwhile, Lynchburg and Southwest Virginia have joined together for a tech hub proposal that also deals with nuclear energy, specifically the development of the so-called small modular reactors that can be built in a factory and then shipped out to wherever they need to be deployed. Lynchburg has several nuclear firms; Youngkin has said he’d like to see an SMR in Southwest Virginia. Again, we’re in a different competition bracket from Tennessee and there’s nothing that says the Commerce Department can’t pick two proposals in roughly the same sector. Still, we’re pretty close to Knoxville in the general scheme of things. Will Knoxville’s nuclear bid make it harder for the Lynchburg-Southwest Virginia bid to win? Guess we’ll find out. (Side note: The Lynchburg-Southwest Virginia alliance seems a pretty smart play to me and seems to mesh with Sen. Mark Warner’s admonition that this part of the state would be better off if it had a single, coordinated, bid.)

5. Delaware may also put in a bid for a regional tech hub.

That matters because Delaware is part of the EDA zone that Virginia sites will be competing in and, unless Delaware partners with Philadelphia, that state’s bid would likely fit into the small population category that the Lynchburg-Southwest bid might wind up in. (Or, a New River Valley bid that so far no one is talking about publicly.) I’ve been trying to keep track of what other bids might come from the EDA zone we’re in. My list is surely incomplete because some places aren’t being very public about what they’re doing, and the news media is so weakened that many news sites simply don’t have the personnel to bird-dog something like this. (If you like that we are, you can make sure that continues to be possible by making a tax-deductible donation.) While Tennessee’s bid in the EDA zone next door seems well-organized, a recent article in Techical.ly made it sound as if Delaware’s isn’t. Meanwhile, we know that upstate New York — from Buffalo to Syracuse — is planning a bid, possibly around microchips. I’ve searched news media in every state in our EDA zone and so far that’s all I’ve been able to find, but I suspect there are many other potential bids out there.

6. Nevada is financing a ballpark for the Oakland A’s to move to Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Hillsborough County, Florida, (Tampa and vicinity) is preparing a proposal to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, who are currently across the bay in St. Petersburg.

Why does any of this matter to us? Because Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he’d like to add two more teams — but not until the A’s and Rays get their stadium issues settled. OK, again, why does this matter to us? Because if and when Major League Baseball adds two new teams — the leading prospects include Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Montreal; Portland, Oregon and Salt Lake City, Utah — those teams will need minor league affiliates. That means it’s possible that communities in Southwest and Southside could be in the running for a minor league team — if they want to make the commitment to whatever stadium upgrades MLB would require. 

There are at least 13 communities in Southwest and Southside that once had minor league teams that don’t now. Bluefield, Bristol, Danville and Pulaski all had minor league teams in recent years until the Appalachian League was reorganized as a summer league for college players. Going further back in time, Covington, Marion, Martinsville and Wytheville all once had minor league teams in the Appalachian League (Covington and Martinsville now have teams in different summer leagues for college players.) Going even further back in time, Abingdon, Bassett, Galax and Radford once had teams in the now-defunct Blue Ridge League. Roanoke once had a team in the now-defunct Piedmont League (although the Salem Red Sox presumably occupy that market space now). 

Farther east, there once were minor league teams in Hopewell, Petersburg and Portsmouth. Farther north, Harrisonburg and Staunton once had minor league teams. All those communities may feel priced out of the current stadium market, but the opportunity might be there if they’re included to take it — particularly if an east-of-the-Mississippi city such as Charlotte, Nashville or Montreal were awarded a franchise. In the case of the latter, we might need to pay attention to not only what happens in other states, but also in a certain province. Jouer au ballon!

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at dwayne@cardinalnews.org...