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Panel Spent $116M In '12 In Va's Tobacco Region

The commission also has provided grants for numerous economic development projects, including $2.7 million to help fund South Boston Energy LLC's construction of a 50-megawatt biomass electric generating facility in Halifax County and $1 million for assist Danville with recruiting Web Parts LLC to relocate its computer programming, applications and data center operation there that is expected to create 260 jobs within three years.

It also approved $800,000 in funds to assist Hampton-based Faneuil Inc. with opening a customer care center for Dominion Virginia Power that's expected to create 150 jobs.

While some praise the commission's contributions to help close business deals and improve conditions in Virginia's tobacco communities, the commission's work hasn't come without controversy in recent years. Following calls for greater oversight, legislation that went into effect in July allows the state Inspector General to review the commission's work and investigate allegations of fraudulent, illegal or inappropriate activities concerning the panel's funds.

A June 2011 study by the General Assembly's investigative arm said the commission signed off on millions of dollars in economic development projects with a sketchy understanding of them, and some yielded little or no benefit in the state's poorest region. The 180-page report said there was no way to measure outcomes for nearly 90 percent of the commission's grants.

But, the report said, Southside and Southwest Virginia â¿¿ regions of the state hit hard declines in tobacco, textile and other manufacturing industries the past 20 years â¿¿ clearly benefited from commission support for scholarships, job training and the deployment of high speed Internet.

___

Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum .

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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