- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

RICHMOND — Virginia already has the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail and the Civil War Trail.

Coming soon: the Tobacco Heritage Bike and Hike Trail, the Virginia Motorsports Trail, the Virginia Pet-Friendly Trail and others.

Expansion of the state’s network of tourism trails is one of several initiatives in “Virginia Works,” an economic development plan announced Monday by Gov. Mark Warner for distressed rural areas.

Mr. Warner will ask the General Assembly to appropriate about $21 million in the next two-year budget to pay for the program. He said that although Virginia’s overall economy is strong, unemployment is high and personal income growth is lagging in some regions — especially Southside and Southwest Virginia.

“I’d love it if, at the end of the day, a young person in Martinsville or Grundy would have the same opportunity as a young person in Fairfax,” Mr. Warner said at a press conference.

A major component of the plan is promoting tourism, which brought in $15.2 billion and accounted for 280,700 full-time jobs in the state last year. Mr. Warner said theme-based tourism trails, including the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail and the Virginia Civil Rights Freedom Trail, have been popular and will be expanded.

Mr. Warner said Virginia is working with other states and the federal government to develop the Captain John Smith Water Trail and the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route.

Also in the works are the Virginia Wine Trail, the Virginia Fishing Trail, the Capital to Capital Bike Trail from Williamsburg to Richmond and the Virginia Colonial Trail, to be completed by the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in 2007.

Borrowing an idea from neighboring states, Mr. Warner also proposed building two retail centers for the sale of local arts and crafts — one near Staunton and one in Southwest Virginia, where several localities have expressed an interest.

The Virginia Artisans Initiative also would include a marketing support network and education programs for artists and craftsmen.

Mr. Warner also will ask the legislature to establish a Virginia Community Development Bank to make loans to new and expanding businesses in distressed areas. He said the bank, with $15 million in capital, would help borrowers who would not otherwise be served by a commercial bank.

The program also includes the following:

• Grants to be awarded to private-public partnerships that identify better ways to respond to the needs of existing business;

• A one-time award of up to $5 million to assist a struggling major employer or to recruit economic development prospects in a distressed community;

• Additional funding to promote advanced manufacturing and development of specialty crops;

• Vigorous pursuit of federal tax credits for economically distressed areas;

• Grants to raze abandoned plants and redevelop the sites for new investment.

Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., Clarksville Republican, attended Mr. Warner’s press conference and said he was encouraged by the initiative.

“Because the governor put as many hooks in the water as he did, some will be successful and some won’t,” said Mr. Ruff, adding that he especially liked the tourism proposals.

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