By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) â¿¿ A commission created to spark development in southwest and Southside Virginia spent more than $116 million in the last fiscal year to change the landscape of the state's rural communities hurt by manufacturing and agricultural job losses, according to the panel's most recent annual report released ahead of a Tuesday meeting in Richmond.
The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission uses bond money from Virginia's share of the $206 billion national settlement against the tobacco industry to target communities that have the highest unemployment rates. Since its creation in 1999, the 31-member panel chaired by Del. Terry G. Kilgore of Scott County, has approved about 1,525 grants for agribusiness, education, research and development, economic development and other special projects.
In fiscal year 2012, the commission approved 124 grants, including $28 million to help build industrial and commercial "mega-sites" to attract new businesses and more than $16 million to fund energy and biotechnology research. The commission also completed its role of paying out about $479 million to tobacco growers affected by programs that limited and stabilized the amount of tobacco they produced.
Additionally, it paid out a portion of one of its largest investments to help fund Liberty University's new Center for Medical and Health Sciences, a $40 million facility for programs aimed at developing health care professionals to practice in medically underserved areas. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, it awarded $12 million of its intended $20.5 million investment for the Lynchburg facility set for completion in 2014.
Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. and Dr. Ronnie B. Martin, the dean of the School of Osteopathic Medicine, said the commission's funding was critical to making the new center a reality.
"Sixty-seven percent of the people in southern and southwest Virginia live in health profession shortage areas, so being able to help increase access to quality medical care is a key factor in economic development as well as the quality of life for those individuals," Martin said.