Ruff chosen as Tobacco Commission chair

Published 4:56 pm Friday, May 31, 2024

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A face familiar to Charlotte County residents will be taking over the Tobacco Commission. The Commission membership voted in former state lawmaker Frank Ruff as their new chairman during meetings this month in Lee County. 

First, let’s explain what the commission does. The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission was created in 1999 by the Virginia General Assembly. Its focus is to help support economic growth and development in areas formerly dependent on tobacco as a cash crop. The group funds proposals for new ideas, as a way of stimulating the economy, using Virginia’s portion of the national tobacco settlement. Now to be clear, not every proposal gets funded. The 28 members that make up the commission vote on each, giving them a thumbs up or a thumbs down. 

The meetings this month are the second of three the group plans to hold this year, done on a quarterly basis. And now there will be a new person in charge. 

“I want to thank my fellow Commissioners for entrusting me to serve as Chairman of the Commission,” Ruff said. “The Tobacco Commission has made strategic investments over the last 25 years that have created jobs, opportunities and helped grow the economies of Southwest and Southern Virginia while continuing to adapt with new programs and offerings to meet the needs of the communities we serve. As Chairman, I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners, staff and our partners across the TRRC footprint to expand on the success the Commission has had with an eye toward the future and harnessing the immense potential Southwest and Southern Virginia have to offer.” 

Ruff will serve a two-year term as chairman. The longtime state senator stepped down from his position just a month after being re-elected, after discovering he had cancer. 

So what got approved? 

In the group’s May meetings, the commission approved eight projects from Southern Virginia, 11 from Southwest Virginia and 11 requests for workforce financial aid. Several of the approved projects, including some from our area, involve agribusiness, site development, tourism and business development. 

Charlotte County’s own Southside Virginia Community College received approval for several projects this time around. The first is a $347,651 grant to expand Industrial Technology programs at the school. A modular solar unit would help with training for those wanting to get into solar installation, with a second training unit for the HVAC and Electricity programs as well. The school’s second approval comes in the form of a $240,000 grant to the Southside Virginia Community College Foundation, for their “Investing in Southside Students” program. That means $240,000 basically going to scholarships, as well as training programs needed to help bring students up to speed in their given fields of study. 

Another project is designed to help farmers and others involved in agribusiness, both here in Charlotte County and across the region. The $10,000 grant goes to the Central Virginia Planning District Commission, which will help set up a comprehensive plan to guide marketing and public relations material to let more people know about and encourage them to buy from local farmers. 

Ruff looks ahead 

Issuing a statement after the meeting, Ruff detailed some of the projects he’s like to look at for Southern and Southwest Virginia. 

“I believe that energy innovation and development hold great promise for Southern and Southwest Virginia and our recently created Energy Ingenuity Fund looks to tap into that sector to bring jobs and investment to the footprint,” Ruff said. “We have also heard loud and clear the need for workforce housing in many of our localities so I am excited to further develop and implement our workforce housing pilot program.”

He said he looked forward to going over more ideas during the group’s fall meeting. 

“The projects approved at this meeting are representative of the diverse range of projects the Commission can help move forward to improve the lives of those in Southern and Southwest Virginia,” Ruff said. “I look forward to working to create additional opportunities for the communities we serve in the energy and agriculture sectors along with additional lending opportunities, including our lending program in partnership with VSBFA, and other innovative tools to meet the evolving needs of Southern and Southwest Virginia.”