On Franklin-Southampton and The Tobacco Commission

Published 10:57 am Wednesday, April 1, 2015

by Amanda Jarratt

The Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission is a 31-member body created by the General Assembly in 1999. The Commission was formed 14 years ago and charged with doling out Virginia’s share of a $206 billion settlement (among 45 other states) with cigarette manufactures, most notably Phillip Morris. Its mission is to promote economic growth and development in what were considered tobacco-dependent communities, using proceeds of the national tobacco settlement to help these areas to succeed. To date, the Commission has awarded 1,831 grants totaling more than $1,072,922,288 across the tobacco region of the Commonwealth, and has provided $309 million in payments to tobacco growers and quota holders.

The Tobacco Commission offers an economic development program focused on building regional economic development capacity to diversify the economic base through a variety of methods. Member localities and industrial prospects can apply for cash grants from the commission for the creation or improvement of potential industrial sites, construction of buildings, the extension of utility infrastructure, construction of workforce training facilities and tourism infrastructure.

The Tobacco Commission also greatly assists member localities with the acquisition and development of industrial properties. The Commission partnered with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (the State lead for economic development) to assess potential megasites and in 2008 established a $100 million initiative to develop large, publicly owned sites in the tobacco region. Today there are eight publicly owned megasites in the tobacco region actively being marketed that are capable of accommodating high-impact regional economic development projects with a potential for substantial direct and indirect economic impact on surrounding communities.

The driver behind this initiative was that the Commonwealth of Virginia lacked fully assembled, publicly owned “mega-sites” to accommodate manufacturing facilities in excess of 1 million square feet that were sought by auto manufacturers and other global advanced manufacturers. In the past 10 years more than 30 projects in the Southeast US have been announced with average capital investments expected of $800 million and average job creation of more than 1,200 new jobs.

So why does this matter to the Franklin-Southampton community? The economic development program administered by The Tobacco Commission provides not only additional cash incentives for industrial projects, but allows the localities to strongly position themselves due to the vast land under public control with infrastructure installed. These funds are not available to our community, or to the vast majority of Virginia, putting us at a great disadvantage. Our community must invest and strategically plan to acquire and develop property for industrial proposes without the assistance of the Tobacco Commission.

Regarding the additional cash incentives available from The Tobacco Commission, some industrial prospects limit their site search to include communities only within the communities that are eligible to tap into these specific funds.

There are numerous examples in recent history where Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. has been working with a project, that was also considering the Tobacco Region and our community was unable to compete with the additional $100,000-$200,000 in cash incentives being offered by the Commission.

In economic development there are numerous factors that influence site selection decisions that are outside of our local control. The support the Tobacco Region supplies to member localities in terms of infrastructure investment and financial incentives for business and industry are another one of the factors we are forced to compete against. On paper both regions share the same infrastructure, proximity to major highways, the Port of Virginia, and other amenities, but when it comes down to the bottom line additional financial incentives weigh heavily on the mind of decision makers and can tip the scale.

With all of this being said, Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. is diligently working with our partners to remain competitive and overcome outside influences that can affect our ability to recruit new projects. Activity level and interest by prospects of all sizes is increasing and we are continuing to aggressively market our community and all of its tremendous assets both domestically and internationally to ensure that we maintain healthy growth of our economy for generations to come.

Amanda Jarratt is the CEO and President of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. She can be reached at ajarratt@franklinsouthamptonva.com or 562-1958.