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LEAF Lines Winter 2015-2016 Edition

Davie County lands 1,400 manufacturing, textile jobs Golden LEAF awards $3.5 million in grants to bring projects to life

In 2011, Davie County's unemployment rate reached 13% with minimal job prospects on the horizon. Today, the county boasts a 4.3% unemployment rate and booming businesses, according to Terry Bralley, President of the Davie County Economic Development Corporation. Much of that dip in the jobless rate results from job growth in manufacturing and textiles. The county has gained approximately 1,400 new jobs in those sectors in the last five years, thanks in part to two grants totaling $3.5 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation.

Golden LEAF awarded Davie County $2.5 million in 2011 to purchase equipment to lease to Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. Ashley Furniture agreed to repay the full cost of the equipment plus interest. One of the grant requirements required Ashley Furniture to create 550 new jobs by the end of 2014. The state reported in October 2015 that Ashley Furniture had 1,100 workers and needs 450 more.

Ashely Furniture

Ashley Furniture Distribution Center is home to over 900 NC workers, thanks in part to collaborations between Davie County, Golden LEAF and state officials.

"The Golden LEAF Foundation played a big part," Bralley said. "It took a lot of work to bring Ashley Furniture here with the state and Golden LEAF coming together as partners on the project. This was really helpful for our community. Everybody gets really excited about bringing in jobs."

To help bring the manufacturing jobs to the area, RJ Reynolds donated half of its stemmery plant to the county.

"The county was able to replace the tobacco industry jobs with furniture manufacturing jobs," Bralley said. "And Ashley Furniture job announcements keep coming."

Golden LEAF awarded Davie County another $1 million grant in 2013 to buy equipment to lease to Gildan Yarns, LLC. Gildan, a leading supplier of cotton and cotton-blend apparel, agreed to pay the full cost of the equipment plus interest, and was required to create 501 new jobs by December 31, 2016, with an average annual wage of $32,303 plus benefits. According to the grant stipulations, 292 new jobs were to be created in Davie County, with Rowan County and Bladen County also landing new jobs. The total capital investment of the company is $40 million in real property and $72 million in personal property. Gildan also plans to increase its purchases of NC-grown cotton. To date, Gildan has created 300 jobs at the Davie site.

"The Golden LEAF grants were a real shot in the arm for our county," Davie County Manager Michael Ruffin said. "We are now bringing a workforce from outside our county to work here. They make the money here and spend the money here. It's a real win."


NC Choices helps meat producers, processors with training, assistance
Golden LEAF grant provides
tools to create profitability for growing market

Between 2006 and 2013, the number of North Carolina livestock producers selling meat directly to consumers grew from 42 to 682. New markets; however, bring new challenges. The rapid increase in direct to market sales from NC livestock producers has produced a need to help farmers and producers make these efforts profitable. NC Choices helps address this need. NC Choices is a Center for Environmental Farming Systems initiative that promotes the advancement of local, niche and pasture-based meat supply chains in North Carolina.

Through a $175,000 Golden LEAF grant to North Carolina State University, NC Choices created videos and training materials, held conferences and one-on-one training sessions, and conducted tours for producers, processors, extension agents, and other meat related businesses professionals. NC Choices has covered interests from business planning to meat preparation with the purpose of creating a profitable and growing niche market.

Ann Rose of Rose Mountain Farm and Rose Mountain Butcher Shoppe in Ashe County has used the resources of NC Choices since 2005. She bought her farm in 1996, quit her day job to focus on farming in 2005 and opened the butcher shop in 2013.

Ann Rose - Farmer / Butcher

Ann Rose (third from left) opened Rose Mountain Butcher Shoppe in Lansing, NC but recently moved it to West Jefferson.

"NC Choices has been instrumental in my business planning," Rose said. "I've used their resources for marketing, general information and networking. I have found the Women Working in the Meat Business Retreat especially helpful."

Rose has her hands in the meat business from farm to fork. She raises grass fed cattle and free range laying hens and grows tomatoes on her 28 acre farm. She also sources pork, beef, poultry and produce from 26 local farms. She handpicks her livestock, which she buys at a premium. The slaughterhouse provides her with the whole carcass which allows her to create custom meat products that most other slaughter plants cannot provide. Often her butcher shop serves as a third party processor for farms selling gourmet sausages and other custom meats.

Left Bank Butchery in Alamance County recently celebrated its first anniversary as a whole animal butchery of pasture raised meat sourced from local farms.

"Our passion is for amazing, super fresh local foods" said Aron Woolman, owner of Left Bank Butchery. "We create value-added products in-house such as charcuterie, cured meats and sausages, while working in a zero-waste environment."

Ross Flynn, co-owner and butcher at Left Bank Butchery, started his career in meat by working a local farm. He then worked for a local foods restaurant called The Eddy, where he started butchering and making charcuterie. The butchery was the next step in Ross' meat career. He has attended classes and workshops offered through NC Choices.

Left Bank Butchery co-owners

Co-owners Ross Flynn and Aron Woolman opened Left Bank Butchery in November 2014 in Saxapahaw, NC in the town’s former textile mill.

"What we've been trying to do -- open a whole animal butchery in a small town -- is so rare and so difficult. It's been great to have NC Choices as a resource," Flynn said. "Whether it's answering questions about prices and marketing, conducting clinics to further our trade, webinars, networking -- NC Choices has made our world of niche meat processors feel much more connected."

"When there's only a few other people specifically doing what we're doing in the state, I think it's important to have a resource like NC Choices," Flynn said. "They get it. They get why we're different from a grocery store, why we're different from a processor. And in my years of working for farmers, they understood, too, how our farms were different. I really appreciate their work and think it's one of the reasons why North Carolina is ahead of other areas when it comes to good, local meat."

With the Golden LEAF grant, NC Choices was able to provide public training and connect farmers with other farmers and with other meat professionals, said Sarah Blacklin, NC Choices Program Director.

NC Choices Annual Meat Conference

NC Choices had 383 meat professionals attend the 2015 Meat Conference held in Winston-Salem.

NC Choices promotes the advancement of local, niche and pasture-based meat supply chains by:

  • Facilitating educational and networking experiences for producers, processors, food professional and buyers.
  • Providing technical and business assistance to commercial meat processors.
  • Assisting supply chain participants in navigating the regulatory environment.
  • Developing innovative partnerships to explore market opportunities and enhance consumer access to North Carolina grown pasture-based meat products.

"Our goal was to train 427 farmers and meat professionals in how to lower costs and increase profitability," Blacklin said. "We ended up reaching 1,140 with our training. We have been particularly pleased with how well our training sessions have been received. Our last meat conference was the largest audience of farmers and extension agents in local meats we have ever had."


Duplin County's seven middle schools serve as model for STEM Academies
Students are gaining
career interests, life skills
through STEM learning

As schools in North Carolina emphasize science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the classroom, one school system is taking the STEM focus to a new level by focusing on future job projections. Duplin County Schools (DCS) is preparing its students for high-demand careers by establishing STEM Academies in its middle schools. In a partnership with the Golden LEAF Foundation, the school system equipped STEM labs at each school with technology and learning modules that allow students to explore careers connected to regional employment opportunities.

Mary Benson, an eighth-grader at E.E. Smith Middle School, is participating in the STEM Academy this semester. She is working on the Practical Skills module. In this module, students learn to identify common tools and their uses. Students are introduced to the history of measurement systems, trouble shooting and repair, and following directions to assemble prefabricated furniture.

Mary Benson at Duplin STEM Academy

Mary Benson works on the Practical Skills module at E.E. Smith Middle School.

Benson was able to put some of these practical skills to use in her home.

"We noticed the sink was leaking," Benson said. "My stepdad tried to fix it, and he couldn't. I asked him if he would let me try. He told me he didn't think I could fix it since he couldn't. He bet me $20 I couldn't do it. I got his toolbox and tightened what needed to be tightened, and it was fixed!"

Benson said she never would have had the courage or the knowledge to fix a kitchen sink had it not been for the STEM Academy.

"I paid attention to what I learned in the lab, and it helped me outside of school," Benson said. "I was adventurous and gave it a try, and it worked. If I can fix that sink at home, there is no telling what else I can do!"

Benson said she enjoys working in the STEM Academy.

"In the STEM Academy you get try new things and achieve," said Benson. "One activity is learning how to program a robot. That's a pretty cool thing for a kid to get to do."

The STEM Academies also help hands-on learners, who might otherwise not be motivated in a traditional classroom setting, to be engaged and take ownership of the learning process.

James Page-Escobar, a 10th-grader at Wallace-Rose Hill High School, was a part of the first STEM Academy as an eighth-grader at Charity Middle School. He said learning in a classroom full of rows is not "his thing," but he loved the STEM Academy. In fact, he told his principal, Mrs. Wynn, that the STEM Academy saved his life because he was considering dropping out of school.

"I enjoy hands-on learning," Page-Escobar said. "The STEM Academy provides a great opportunity for students who like to work with their hands."

Page-Escobar first learned how to work with his hands from his dad. Because of the foundation provided through the STEM Academy and from his dad, he enrolled in the Automotive Sciences program at Wallace-Rose Hill High School two years ago and plans to continue that career track through graduation.

James Escobar - Duplin STEM Academy

James Page-Escobar attributes his middle school experience with the STEM Academy to his future career goals.

"I have a truck now," he said. "I can work on it myself, which has saved me a lot of money. Thanks to the STEM Academy I get to learn new information and build on what I already know."

Tarla Smith, Duplin County Schools Executive Director of Career/Technical Education, JROTC and Innovative Programs said, the school system is working on connecting different aspects of the modules offered in the STEM Academies to careers pathways. Students like Page-Escobar who are interested in the automotive field can go from the STEM Academy in middle school to Automotive Sciences in high school and then proceed to the Diesel Mechanics program at James Sprunt Community College, Smith said.

"The really innovative part of these academies is that students work in teams of two or three through computer-guided instruction," Smith said. "Academically gifted children and educationally challenged children work side by side. It's a real success."

Duplin County Schools took three years to implement the project in all seven middle schools. In year one, the school system opened its first academy at Charity Middle. In year two, the system added three more, and then added its final three labs this spring. DCS held meetings with area industry to gather input on employment skills before selecting the modules to use at each school.

Duplin STEM Academy - Wind Power

Students at Charity Middle School work on the Alternative Energy module.

"The instructor moderates the class and helps students as they encounter problems or stopping points," Smith said. "The students treat the class as a work environment. They get their materials and work through the modules on a self-directed pace."

The $627,692 Golden LEAF grant awarded through the Foundation's Community Assistance Initiative provided Duplin County Schools with the equipment and tools for selected modules, equipment installation and professional development for the teachers. DCS has opened its doors during professional development to all DCS faculty as well as other neighboring school districts interested in STEM Academies.

"This project would not have been possible without Golden LEAF funding," Smith said. "We are excited about the progress we seen so far and the possibilities these academies bring to our community."

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© 2016 Golden LEAF Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

Message from the
Dan Gerlach

Dan Gerlach, Golden LEAF President

Happy 2016! Despite the upheaval in its early days in the world equity markets, the new year is always a time for thoughtful reflection and hopeful anticipation.

For an organization created to help North Carolina diversify and modernize our economy, it's hard to beat the Davie County story. Two great companies -- Ashley Furniture and Gildan -- have located and are rapidly growing in Davie, contributing to a dramatic decline in the local unemployment rate. These two companies are now part of North Carolina's long heritage of furniture and textiles, but in a modern, globally competitive way. Ashley Furniture is located on the former site of a RJ Reynolds stemmery, further showing the connection between the past and present of our economy.

While there's no doubt that tobacco remains important to North Carolina's economy, our agriculture sector has become even more diverse. Read in this issue about NC Choices and its work to benefit small meat growers and processors.

And while we focus on things that are growing, we do not neglect to grow the next generation of our leaders. Learn how high school graduates and community college transfer students from many North Carolina counties can compete for scholarships, which also include leadership development and internship opportunities. Two of our former scholars, Dail Berry and Brandon Ruppe, share their thoughts with us on how they decided to return to rural North Carolina after graduation. Their stories are similar to those of many other Golden LEAF scholars. Perhaps you can help us find the next Dail or Brandon. Applications for the scholarships are due March 1.

Some future Golden LEAF scholars may well be found learning in STEM laboratories in Duplin County middle and high schools. As a parent, I especially enjoyed reading about the practical lifelong skills that Duplin County students are developing. Those skills will not only be handy around the home and car, but in many workplaces as well.

Continuing this theme, many of our scholars are pursuing studies in the hopes of obtaining jobs in the health care sector. Demand for health care is changing and growing, and you can read about High Country Health's story of job creation to fill a gap in mountainous Avery County.

We are delighted to share these stories with you as we reflect upon our grantsmaking and collaboration. Based on results like these, you can understand why I am hopeful about more good outcomes in 2016 in those communities we were created to serve.


Dan Gerlach can be contacted by
e-mail at


Applications for Golden LEAF Scholarship due March 1, 2016 Scholarships to help 215 rural NC high school seniors, community college transfer students
attend college

Golden LEAF Scholarship information and applications for 2016-17 are now available at A total of 215 awards will be offered to first-time recipients from qualifying counties for the 2016-17 academic year. Applications are due March 1, 2016.

The awards are valued at $12,000 ($3,000 per year for up to four years) for high school students attending a participating North Carolina college. Community college transfer students can receive $3,000 per year for up to three years.

The scholarship program is funded through a Golden LEAF grant and is administered by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority. A complete list of program requirements, participating campuses and qualifying counties can be viewed at Contact College Foundation of North Carolina toll-free at 866-866-CFNC, for more information.

Scholarship recipients also may apply for the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program. This program, offered through the well-regarded Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC, provides leadership-building seminars, a summer internship and a stipend. Students completing all four years of the leadership program can receive up to $8,830 in stipends in addition to the Golden LEAF Scholarship award. Click here for more information on the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program.

Golden LEAF Scholar Spotlight Dail Berry

Dail Berry - Golden LEAF Scholarship Recipient

(From left) Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach congratulates Golden LEAF Scholar Dail Berry on her choice to return home and work at Mattamuskeet Early College High School.

Golden LEAF Scholarship recipient Dail Berry is working in her hometown at her former school as a middle grades science teacher. Berry, a 2011 graduate of Mattamuskeet High School, now Mattamuskeet Early College High School, earned a degree in elementary education with a concentration in science at East Carolina University. She graduated in May 2015 and has found her new career rewarding and challenging.

"I have only been teaching for three months, but I've already gained so much from my kids," Berry said. "I have gained mentoring relationships and see big changes in my students. I couldn't see myself doing anything else. I am definitely glad I made the decision to come back home."

Berry also works with a team at Hyde County Schools on implementing a Golden LEAF Foundation grant-funded 1:1 Chromebook Initiative to upgrade technology in the school system.

On October 21, 2015, Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach attended a Golden LEAF Foundation check presentation for the Hyde County Schools' 1:1 Chromebook Initiative. The $200,000 grant provides each middle and high school student and faculty member in the county with a Google Chromebook. The grant also funds professional development for faculty members.

"I am glad Golden LEAF has provided this opportunity for my school," Berry said. "It is good to see something so positive happening in our school system. It will help put us on the global map."

Golden LEAF Scholar Spotlight Brandon Ruppe

Golden LEAF Scholar Brandon Ruppe

Brandon Ruppe (right) is working at Cleveland Community College to help county residents gain employment by providing funding to go to college.

Golden LEAF Scholar Brandon Ruppe earned two associate degrees and was the valedictorian of the 2012 graduating class at Cleveland County Early College High School. He was awarded the Golden LEAF Scholarship and finished his bachelor's degree in biology in May 2015 at Western Carolina University.

After graduating with honors, Ruppe returned home to work in Cleveland County. He is one of many generations in his family from the county. He is a case manager for Cleveland Community College's Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program, which provides funding for county residents to receive training for gainful employment.

"I have the perfect job: sending people from my home county back to school," Ruppe said. "I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for this scholarship program. The program helped me finish college with little debt. It also helped me realize that I wanted to stay in a rural county."

Ruppe took part in the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program, only offered to Golden LEAF Scholarship recipients. Through the program, he worked as an intern at South Mountains State Park in Burke County. His internship provided him with the opportunity to work with the park rangers and maintenance staff as well as finish his undergraduate research project.

"The leadership program provided useful information," Ruppe said. "It was also nice to meet kids from other rural counties across the state with similar goals. I am very lucky to have such a rewarding job."


$200,000 Golden LEAF grant helps Avery County provider renovate dental office
Project creates 19 new jobs, increases healthcare services, provides internship opportunities

Avery County is in a health professional shortage area, according to the North Carolina Office of Rural Health and Community Care. A $200,000 Golden LEAF grant helped the High Country Community Health of Avery County expand its offerings by funding renovation of space to create a dental office and expand the services it offers, which also enabled the health center to acquire and grow a local, primary care practice that was reducing staff and services. The result has been the creation of 19 new healthcare jobs, retention of existing positions, and increased healthcare services in the area. Thanks to the renovation, the new office is also able to offer dental internships to area college and university students. The Avery County locations now are providing dental care, increased primary care, and behavioral health services, three areas in which the county faced health professional shortages.

"The dental office serves about 25 people a day and as of early December, was on track to perform approximately a million dollars worth of dental work this year," said Alice Salthouse, CEO of High Country Community Health. "Dental care directly affects all aspects of health. Because our office works on a sliding pay scale, most people can afford our services."

Dental Care

High Country Health's dental office now serves 25 patients a day and is actively recruiting for a new dentist.

The new dental location and related expansion allowed the community health center to hire 9 new full-time dental positions, plus save 5 and add 10 new medical/ behavioral health positions at the primary care facility in Avery County.

"Golden LEAF was the biggest contributor to this project," Salthouse said. "Without the renovations for the dental clinic, we could not have added all of these healthcare positions."

High Country Community Health focuses on an integrated medicine model of care that treats the whole person. Patients benefit from the services of an interdisciplinary treatment team that provides individualized care tailored to meet their specific health needs. The primary care provider can also pull in the patient resources specialist for support. The psychologist can recommend dental and also health services.

"It is not at all uncommon to see our medical staff, psychologist and patient resources specialist all working together with a patient," Salthouse said. "We want to address all areas of our patients' lives that affect their health."

HCCH - Health Care

With outside funding covering most of High Country Health's dental renovation, the center was able to add more staff to its primary and behavioral health center.

High Country Community Health has served as an internship site for Appalachian State University, Lees-McRae College, and Wake Forest University in the areas of social work, nursing, healthcare management, and physician assistant. Studies have shown that healthcare professionals who train in a rural environment are more likely to work in a rural environment.

"We are actively seeking a new dentist," Salthouse said. "And our new psychologist starts in February. This project is providing wonderful services for the folks of Avery County."



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The Golden LEAF Foundation   301 N. Winstead Avenue   Rocky Mount, NC 27804
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© 2016 Golden LEAF Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved