WISE, Va. (WJHL) – Southwest Virginia leaders gathered at UVA Wise for an economic forum, with the biggest topic of discussion being the economic boom the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is about to bring.

Almost 300 business and community leaders attended.

President of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Bristol Allie Evangelista was a part of a panel discussing the growth the casino will bring.

“Not only are we bringing a brand new form of entertainment to the area,” Evangelista said. “We’re bringing opportunity for careers.”

Evangelista said her team has already hired about 400 team members over the past month and a half.

Shannon Blevins with UVA Wise said population trends are expected to decline in Southwest Virginia in the coming years, but it’s new ventures like Hard Rock that could change that.

“The trends are projected to actually decline unless there are mighty interventions,” Blevins said. “So when you look at the opportunities that are in front of this region, there’s plenty of opportunity to reverse that trend.”

Sara Dunnigan with Virginia Growth and Opportunity (GO Virginia) said this economic forum is a step in the right direction.

“Southwest Virginia has really demonstrated the highest level of commitment to collaboration and shared success,” Dunnigan said.

Evangelista said a lot of people within Hard Rock have shown interest in moving to Virginia but are struggling to find housing. Another topic of the forum discussed creating new places for casino employees and guests to stay or live.

“I’m so excited about this opportunity to bring the first casino to Virginia,” Evangelista said. “But I’m more excited just because of the excitement of the community.”

The temporary casino is on track to open on July 8.

Hard Rock is still hiring in the area, with the next event taking place on June 1 in Johnson City at the DoubleTree hotel.