Happy Thanksgiving. I wanted to reach out to you during this season of Thanksgiving to share some of the reasons I am thankful. I am thankful for the commitment of the Golden LEAF Board of Directors and Golden LEAF team for their hard work and dedication to the mission of increasing economic opportunity in rural, economically distressed, and tobacco-dependent communities. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the past year and the opportunities that lie ahead.
Strategic Plan Implementation
Most of 2020 was dedicated to building a long-term strategic plan to serve as a roadmap for the next few years. In February 2021, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors adopted the strategic plan, which included fine-tuned priority areas and goals for each of these areas.
Golden LEAF’s five strategic priority areas are:
- Job Creation and Economic Investment
- Workforce Preparedness
- Community Competitiveness, Capacity, and Vitality
- Organizational Excellence
As a result of findings during the strategic planning process, the Golden LEAF Board increased the funding available through the Open Grants Program. At the June 2021 meeting, the Golden LEAF Board approved establishing criteria and an application process for requests for funding of more than $200,000, up to a maximum of $500,000, from this program. Projects eligible for up to $500,000 have a defined set of characteristics listed on the Open Grants Program webpage.
During the strategic planning process, the Golden LEAF Board identified gaps in available funding to support site development necessary to attract businesses, especially to rural and economically distressed areas. In response to these findings, the SITE Program was designed to support the identification, preparation, and development of sites to attract quality jobs to these communities. The SITE Program was launched in September 2021, and the first round of funding will be awarded in December 2021.
Golden LEAF Funding November 2020-2021
From November 2020 to November 2021, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded $24 million to support projects that will create more than 1,900 jobs and provide economic investment, help train workers for available jobs, support the agriculture industry, and provide infrastructure for community competitiveness, capacity, and vitality.
These awards also include the Community-Based Grants Initiative (CBGI) in the Northwestern Prosperity Zone. At the April 2021 Board meeting, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded funds for 14 Community-Based Grants Initiative projects totaling $9.6 million in the Northwest Prosperity Zone. These projects will support workforce preparedness, job creation and economic investment, public infrastructure, and agriculture outcomes in Alexander, Ashe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga, and Wilkes counties.
Additionally, the Golden LEAF Board also provided funding totaling more than $6.2 million to support the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program that provides funding for students from rural counties to attend North Carolina’s community colleges and colleges and universities, as well as provides leadership training, and paid internships in rural communities. This year the Golden LEAF Board took steps to enhance the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program by increasing the college and university scholarship from $3,000 per year to $3,500 per year. The Board also increased community college scholarships to $2,250 per year for curriculum courses or up to $1,850 per year for continuing education programs.
The Golden LEAF Board approved the creation of a new Scholarship Program Manager role to lead implementation of the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program for two- and four-year institutions. This position supports an increased focus on outreach and engagement with future, current, and former Golden LEAF Scholars and stakeholders in addition to enhanced Golden LEAF Scholarship Program elements. The Scholarship Program Manager also manages funding to entities that administer scholarship, leadership, and internship program elements.
While we have worked through many of the goals and strategies in the strategic plan this past year, I am thankful that our Board of Directors is committed to continuing to work through the plan and also address needs as they may come. Golden LEAF will continue to be a strong partner for the long-term economic success of North Carolina.
I have had the opportunity to visit almost all 100 counties over my first two years. I have met with all of the community college presidents. I have visited many of our local governments and talked with a variety of local and state leaders. We look forward to continuing our work in moving rural, tobacco-dependent, and economically distressed areas of our state forward with the help of people who are deeply rooted to the communities we serve. Our communities are strong and resilient. We are here to help fund the strategies they know will help move their economies forward.
As we pause today to give thanks for all we do have, let us also look forward to the future working in partnership to grow our state’s economy.