TRRC Small Towns Pilot Initiative


Guidelines and Call for Letters of Interest

Deadline April 10, 2020

 Application Form



To demonstrate successful economic development strategies for the creation of higher paying jobs and the attraction of skilled workers to rural downtown commercial districts. Small towns will generally be defined as incorporated communities with populations under 5,500 that also demonstrate high vacancy rates in the downtown commercial district.  Ideally, communities will have strong community-led interest and committed capacity from public and private leaders to address opportunities for economic revitalization and growth.

Statement of Need:

The rural towns in the Tobacco Region serve as important community focal points and economic centers.  These rural communities have faced acute economic challenges in recent decades as transportation and economic patterns have changed. The economic challenges of a rural small town are often reflected in extremely low-to-medium household incomes, lack of  good-paying job opportunities, high rates of out-commuting by the workforce and high building vacancy rates.

Goals of the Small Towns Pilot Initiative:

  1. Coordinate and collaborate with state and local agency partners including but not limited to DHCD, VTC, VCC, VDACS, DSS, VEDP, local planning district commissions, federal partners including USDA RD, and other local and regional economic development partners.
  1. Identify and serve needs not currently served by other partners’ programs, and determine the feasibility of complementing existing programs with additional TRRC resources.
  1. Support the creation and expansion of technology and businesses services sector jobs (including in-demand remote/teleworking jobs), and small scale production/manufacturing businesses.
  1. Encourage occupancy of vacant, underutilized privately-owned buildings in order to generate additional local tax revenue, and public buildings providing for increased job opportunities.


  • Coworking – Assist in the creation of cowork spaces where there is demonstrated need, through improvements to public and private buildings and high speed broadband access to small office/business locations to assist individuals with start-up businesses or remote/teleworking jobs.
  • Entrepreneurial – Identify and provide match for programs such as Community Business Launch, cost-share incentives for equipment needs for small scale production and technology companies, and other support resources for entrepreneurial start-up assistance and expansion, including support for small business growth.
  • Building Improvements – Target incentives to encourage private capital investment in towns with high downtown vacancy rates, high out-commuting and low-to-medium household income levels where prospects are committing to job creation.
  • Recruitment – Professional service contracts to assist with marketing of available buildings, recruitment of small job creators, and promotion of targeted downtown spaces for satellite and back offices.
  • Other Strategies identified by the Community – Should other strategies be suggested or discovered during the pilot process, these strategies will be considered by Commission staff.

Potential Eligible Uses of Tobacco Commission Funds:

During the course of the pilot program, the list of eligible uses will be refined and made specific to each small town. Potential possible uses and  budgets for specific activities are identified below – no one of these potential uses are guaranteed, nor can any be applied for in specific: these are the sorts of support that may be offered after a determination of the specific needs of the pilot community.


Capital Investments in Downtown Properties

  • Publically Owned or Nonprofit Owned Property Developed for Mixed Use and/or Coworking

Funding can be used for up to 50% of the cost (up to $250K) of renovations/up-fit of publically owned buildings to be used as professional office space for individuals and small businesses, for technology or business services sector satellite offices, and for small scale production/manufacturing businesses. Any identified properties must include or attract a tenant sufficient to keep the property revenue-positive after the pilot ends.


  • Building Improvement Incentives (Up to $30,000 grant)

Where public benefits can be measured when assisting private property owners, TRRC will consider using a “cost-share” approach to support up to 25% of capital costs, for a maximum of $30,000 of grant/loan funds, for privately owned buildings where there is a significant identified need for office space for individuals and/or small office location interests, with commitments for new job creation. Attention to be given to projects targeted to communities with lower than average medium household incomes and/or higher than average unemployment rates.

  • Loans for Existing or New Company Expansions

Below market rate loan assistance ($250K and up) for major capital funding needs by individual companies (e.g. small satellite offices/back office operations, small scale producers, etc.).


Entrepreneurial / Business Support Strategies

TRRC will, at the conclusion of the pilot period, consider offering:

  • Small Business Development Incentives – Grant funds may be requested to provide the required local Match for the $45,000 Community Business Launch grants from DHCD; and to support additional incentives for qualifying small scale production businesses or other identified prospects during the pilot period that exceed other available CBL funding.
  • Equipment Cost-Share for Growing Businesses – Incentives for small businesses that are growing jobs, by providing an equipment cost-share incentive (up to 25% of capital costs) to encourage companies to locate and grow their business in a downtown area. Incentives may be offered for technology and production equipment, or for furnishing of new or expanding office spaces (e.g. coworking/maker spaces, commercial kitchens, small scale producers, etc.).
  • Access to Consulting Support – When town businesses could benefit, the Commission may provide cost-free or reduced-cost access to consulting services from state partners.

Planning and Recruitment Activities

TRRC grants to public and non-profit organizations for these activities require a dollar-for dollar match.

  • Small Business Recruitment – Support for up to 50% of costs to conduct targeted marketing strategy development and implementation for recruitment of professional employment opportunities. This includes the recruitment of satellite offices and back office locations to the Tobacco Region.
  • Feasibility Studies & Market Assessments for Coworking/Collaborative Work Spaces – Support for up to 50% of costs to conduct market assessment and feasibility studies to identify community interest in – and demand for – a coworking/collaborative work space. Eligible activities include data analysis on commuter and community occupations; implementation of surveys and other data collection tools to identify interest/demand within the community; and feasibility studies and design concepts for development of potential properties for coworking.

Selecting Pilot Communities

Pilot Process and Timeline

TRRC staff has announced a process to solicit letters of interest (LOIs) from Tobacco Region communities. LOIs and applications addressing all questions in the TRRC Small Towns Application must be submitted to no later than Friday, April 10, 2020.

Two pilot communities – one in Southern Virginia and one in Southwest Virginia – will be selected by staff, with input and advice from partner agencies, in May 2020 for the pilot phase of the Initiative. Pilot communities will be eligible to receive TRRC assistance for such projects TRRC staff identify – including a to-be-determined amount of financial assistance – for a period of two to three years.

Upon completion of the pilot, TRRC staff and partner agencies will evaluate the results and determine if a model has been created that might serve to be routinized and made available for more small towns.

For additional input and information

Please contact the TRRC grants staff for additional input on program design and implementation.