I am grateful to have joined the Golden LEAF Foundation four months ago. To date, I have traveled 10,222.2 miles from Buncombe County in the west to Pasquotank County in the east. I’ve been listening and learning and hearing success stories through roundtables and other gatherings. Our Board and staff are focusing on what our state’s economic development needs are now and what they may be 5-10 years into the future.
While we are aware of the current climate, the Foundation is also looking to the future. We will undergo a strategic planning process this year, including listening sessions across the state. This exercise will help us to better serve our mission to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities.
North Carolina has a strong system of economic development organizations throughout the state. In 2019, the Foundation supported projects that helped create 974 jobs, train 7,189 people, and create $39,202,762 in new income payrolls. We also have a strong education system. Through the state’s colleges and universities, we have helped over 20,000 students obtain secondary education degrees and credentials. While we continue to make great strides in growing North Carolina’s economy, there is much left to do.
In response to employer needs, we launched a new special initiative to address workforce needs called the Golden LEAF Opportunity for Work (GLOW). Staff are currently in the process of reviewing applications that will help increase the number of people engaged in the workforce. We expect to announce projects receiving funding for GLOW in June 2020.
The Foundation also works to address the economic needs of community’s through focused regional outreach. This approximately yearlong process includes coaching to cross-county project teams to identify untapped regional resources and help eligible entities pursue economic development funding opportunities, including the Foundation’s $11 million Community-Based Grants Initiative (CBGI). Golden LEAF is finishing up the CBGI process in the Sandhills Prosperity Zone and expects to announce funded projects after our April 2020 Board meeting. We are excited to now be working on the CBGI in the Northwest Prosperity Zone, which recently held its kickoff meeting with 135 participants in Lenoir, NC.
Since 2016, Golden LEAF has been tasked to help communities recover who were hit by Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, Dorian and other named storms. The Foundation has moved quickly to support these communities. To date, Golden LEAF has received $114.5 million from the State of North Carolina to support the economic recovery of these communities. Through small business loans and equipment and infrastructure support, $95 million has been reinvested in these communities devastated by natural disasters. The remaining funding is on track to be obligated by mid-June 2020.
Golden LEAF was celebrating its 20th Anniversary year when I joined the team in November. I am eager to help lead Golden LEAF into its next great decade of work. The Foundation will continue to work with its partners to help move the economic needle. Golden LEAF will do its part by providing funding to support economic development, helping communities to collaborate and combine resources, and supporting innovative projects to help our state prosper. I look forward to working with you to support the great economic development strategies across our state.