Organization trying to revitalize a region

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Print this page by Robert Powell

Paul Farrar was able to return to his hometown because of a student loan forgiveness program that is little known outside his region.

The Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, a 31-member panel formed by the General Assembly in 1999, uses money from a massive settlement with major cigarette companies to revitalize Southwest and Southern Virginia. As Robert Burke reports in our cover story, the organization tends to make headlines when it makes a crucial grant in a economic development deal, such as Danville’s “White Mill,” a former textile mill being transformed into a high-tech center. But the commission’s biggest influence may be its ability to attract and retain well-educated workers.

While Farrar realized his dream of returning to Henry County, Fredericksburg businessman Joe Wilson isn’t sure he got what he wanted in federal health-care reform. Marjolijn Bijlefeld finds that the short-term effect of the new law will be higher costs for business. Provisions in the bill intended to control health-care costs will take time.

Also taking their time are many Virginia community college students. Heather Hayes notes that the enrollment of community colleges has soared. More students are taking “non-linear” routes to a college degree. They are getting their associate’s degree and going to work before returning to the classroom for their final two years.

By contrast, the CEOs of the Fantastic 50, Virginia’s fastest-growing companies, appear to move in a straight line toward their goal — ever-higher revenue growth. The companies on this year’s list weren’t slowed by the recession. Instead they posted a median four-year growth rate of 322.8 percent, the highest since 2005.

Many of the companies hail from Fairfax County, an area that has become the economic engine of Northern Virginia. M.J. McAteer reports that the county has won many corporate prizes in recent years, including Volkswagen of America, Hilton Worldwide and SAIC.

Fairfax’s success stems in part from its proximity to the federal government. Hampton Roads is about 200 miles away, but it, too, owes much of its economic stability to federal dollars that pour into the region’s military installations.  Elizabeth Cooper, however, finds that Hampton Roads increasingly is attractive to businesses because of its skilled work force, access to the Port of Hampton Roads and wide diversity of home choices. Few other places offer residents a chance to live on a farm, in a small town, a big city or a beach resort.

The economy of Hampton Roads allows its residents to call any of those places home. It’s a choice that many more tobacco region natives like Paul Farrar would like to have.

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