The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission’s new executive director, James Campos, said that increasing energy projects and developments in Southwest and Southside Virginia is one of his goals for the position.
Campos’ background is in energy – he was the director of the office of economic impact and diversity for the Department of Energy during the Trump administration.
The commission invests in economic development projects throughout Southside and Southwest Virginia, areas that were previously reliant on tobacco farming, to help them recover from the loss of that industry.
Campos said energy projects are a “means to reach great economic success” during an interview with Cardinal. Energy is a big mover of the American economy, he said, and Southwest and Southside Virginia should be a part of that.
“[Energy] is becoming a stronger narrative these days because of certain circumstances, both on the political side and also just on simple things like gas prices and talk of global warming,” Campos said.
Because of this, there’s an unprecedented amount of state and federal funding going toward energy projects, development and research, Campos said.
“We need to make sure that Southern Virginia and Southwestern Virginia gets these opportunities, gets these dollars,” he said.
Campos’ appointment by Gov. Glenn Youngkin as Tobacco Commission executive director was a dual appointment – he is also now deputy secretary of commerce and trade.
Both of these roles mesh nicely with his energy priorities, he said.
“It’s actually a nice blend because what’s happening in Southwest and Southside Virginia are opportunities in energy economic development,” Campos said. “It can be a great, great form of growth in both labor and business.”
In addition to nuclear options (Youngkin wants to put a small nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia), the southern regions of Virginia also have potential for hydrogen and biomass energy projects, Campos said.
Aside from his focus on energy, Campos said his goals and priorities align with those of the Tobacco Commission’s most recent strategic plan.
That plan lays out four main funding priorities for the 2020-2022 time frame: business and community lending, education and workforce development, agribusiness and the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund, which provinces performance-based monetary grants.
“The only addition I would throw in there is an energy component,” Campos said. “That’s the only addition. Everything else was well done and well thought out.”
Andy Sorrell, deputy director of the Tobacco Commission, said the commission is working on a new strategic plan for 2023 and following years.
As part of this process, the commission got feedback from local and regional economic development officials, state officials and other stakeholders, which the commission is now reviewing, he said.
“Right now, the plan is to have a draft plan ready for adoption at our spring meeting,” Sorrell said. “We don’t take lightly having a plan and how important it is that it continues to represent the now, where we are with our commission, with our partners, with our priorities.”
Before working with the Department of Energy, Campos worked in government administration in Nevada, where he gained experience in economic development, education and business.
Sen. Frank Ruff, Tobacco Commission chairman, said that Campos brings “a wealth of experience” to the position, in an email to Cardinal after the commission’s January meeting.
“He has experience with economic development, energy, and workforce issues, all of which are major focuses of the Tobacco Commission,” Ruff said.
Campos said there are a lot of transferable skills from his previous roles to his new roles. Campos worked on the governor’s workforce investment board in Nevada, which involved combating challenges that rural communities face.
That background lends itself to understanding the needs of rural areas and the difficulties with access to capital and awareness from other regions, he said.
“I spent four years in Northern Virginia, and that is all Virginia is to a lot of individuals, but that’s not the case,” Campos said. “It’s a big state with a lot of different areas, and I think increased awareness could do a lot.”
Before increasing awareness to other parts of Virginia, Campos has to familiarize himself with the region. He said he has a plan in mind to do this.
“At first, it’s very elementary,” he said. “It’s me going down there and visiting the sites, visiting leaders, various organizations, community colleges, institutions and elected officials.”
After doing his due diligence, he can start making sure other parts of the state are informed about the goings-on in Southwest and Southside. He has outreach initiatives and awareness campaigns in mind, and he’s begun conversations with other members of the commission on how to put a greater emphasis on this, he said.
“It’s not rocket science, but it does take a lot of effort, a little elbow grease,” Campos said. “And it won’t just be one campaign. Throughout my tenure, I’m going to make sure that there’s always an emphasis to create awareness, and that really starts with me getting out there.”
Campos said there is a lot of potential in Southwest and Southside, and that the Tobacco Commission is “going to do whatever we need to do to make sure we reach that potential.”