Residents in several Southwest Virginia counties will see better access to broadband service after The Virginia Tobacco Commission approved over $2 million in new funding.

Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, and Delegate Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, announced June 10 that four broadband access projects were funded by the commission’s board of trustees totaling $2,050,000 million in grant funding.

Russell, Tazewell, Buchanan and Dickenson Counties were awarded the funding that was approved in partnership with internet providers to bring high-speed internet to thousands of homes throughout the region, according to a written statement from Chafin.

“In today’s technology driven society, access to the internet is imperative to economic development, education, and quality of life,” Chafin said in the statement. “It is my belief that building out internet access through new projects like these is equal to the need of previous generations building the interstate road system and building out access to electricity. I am pleased that we were able to successfully fight for funding new broadband internet access for my constituents in Southwest Virginia.”

A separate statement from Morefield said the project approved for Tazewell County will expand wireless broadband service into the Thompson Valley and Cove communities. The statement also says the project will make the expansion of cellular services in the area possible as well, if the representatives are able to successfully negotiate a deal with providers.

“The areas impacted currently have limited or no access to service,” Morefield said. “Access to the world is extremely important and broadband internet is an invaluable resource that every resident should have access to. There is more work to be done and I will always be committed to improving the quality of life for the residents of Southwest Virginia.”

In addition to the broadband funding, numerous workforce development and education initiatives received funding at the commission meeting. The Talent Attraction Program, which encourages recent graduates to live in the Tobacco Region and work in targeted, hard-to-fill occupations by providing up to $12,000 annually in student loan repayment, received $3 million in new funding.

The Commission also passed $2 million in funding for a similar program designed to entice medical professionals to move to the Tobacco Region for work through a student loan repayment program.

Chafin announced nearly $1 million for community colleges in Southwest Virginia for workforce development financial aid. These funds will help offset the cost of credential programs, certifications and degrees that will help residents gain the necessary skills for their careers.

The commission also awarded grants to Bluefield College to build new labs and purchase equipment necessary for a new nursing program.

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