Board Spotlight: Board Chair Bo Biggs

Name: Bo Biggs
City of Residence: Lumberton
County of Residence: Robeson
Employment: K. M. Biggs, Inc.
Appointed by: Speaker of the House
Golden LEAF Board Leadership Roles: Board Chair (December 2019); Audit Committee Chair (2016-2019)

What are other activities or leadership roles do you provide for the community?

I am very active in several civic organizations in numerous capacities outside of my family’s businesses. I have been an active member in my Rotary Club for 36 years, served as president and past president, and have been the Secretary-Treasurer for over 25 years. The club maintains numerous scholarships for Robeson County students and other local charities. We have established a $100,000 endowment managed by the NC Community Foundation. It is a tradition of our family to be involved in our local chamber. My great-grandfather helped organize it and was the first president of the Lumberton Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture in 1937. My grandfather and uncle were past presidents, and I was fortunate to be president in 1991. I have served in the capacity of legislative chair for my local Chamber of Commerce for many years and enjoy our monthly board meetings. I am a member of Antioch Baptist Church and play trombone every Sunday in the praise band.

What is your connection to rural, tobacco-dependent or economically distressed areas?

I was born, raised and stayed in Robeson County. Many of my friends from high school did not come back to Robeson County, since there was limited job growth, and opportunities were more available in the urban areas. I was fortunate to have a family with a small business. The business kept me out of trouble, and I looked forward to working the counter in our retail hardware store during holidays, crawling under houses to run the water pipes for ice makers, helping wire tobacco barns, installing roof antennas and TVs, and riding the tractor on our cattle farm. During tobacco season, I started off as a young kid handling the water bucket for the buyers at the end of the line and running the sales tickets to the office, and as I got older, I worked on the farm picking up piles of tobacco and taking them to the warehouse, waiting in line patiently to unload as well as delivering corn and soybeans during harvest season. When our family started the warehouse business, I helped unload, weigh, and place the piles of tobacco for auction.

How does your personal and/or professional life complement Golden LEAF’s mission and priorities?

Like many young folks, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I ended up attending NC State University and earned an accounting degree. I became a CPA in 1980 and worked in public practice with a local CPA firm in Lumberton. At the time, my family’s business was into retail, farm equipment and farming, but times were changing. Our family and associated businesses were large holders of tobacco allotments, as were our customers. In 1982, the No Net Cost Tobacco Act of 1982 changed the outlook for tobacco farmers and its future as a cash crop. In 2004 the Tobacco Transition Payment Act ended federal price supports and quotas. The end of the celebration of the opening day of the tobacco auction by community leaders in our small towns was coming to an end, and the end of how we put food on the table. All this, combined with the many textile plants in the county closing as NAFTA rules were going into effect, devastated our county economically. Our way of life was ending, and it was time to change the way we made a living. My family members all took tobacco buyout funds over the 10-year period and reinvested in other ventures, and we were lucky. We survived and thrived—but it was not fun closing businesses and starting something new and different. I believe that my experience of uncertainty and trying something new to improve the quality of life and add property tax base to a rural county is something I can use to help Golden LEAF’s mission to move the economic needle for all rural communities.

What are you most excited about seeing happen in economic development in rural NC in the next 5-10 years?

That’s easy. I’m excited to see increased jobs and tax base for rural counties. Over the 20 years of Golden LEAF’s existence, Golden LEAF has worked in a range of economic development programs. Programs include job readiness training, new skills and credentials at our community colleges, water and sewer infrastructure improvements to support a potential new or expanding industry, broadband availability in rural areas, four-year college scholarships for rural youth, community-based grants and more. All Golden LEAF programs are monitored and evaluated by staff. The staff reviews the outcomes, brings recommendations to the Board, and we try to figure out together what is working and what is not. It’s a continuous process, and one I look forward to reviewing and revising as Board Chair along with our new President Scott Hamilton. It is a perfect time – with new leadership – to do an in-depth review and evaluation of our current programs and their outcomes.

What do you want people to know about the Golden LEAF Foundation?

I want people to know that we have a great 15-member Board, with unique skill sets, who share their ideas for rural economic growth. We have a staff that is skilled in implementing and evaluating those ideas and initiatives with the goal of moving the needle for the economic benefit and the improvement of the quality of life for our rural citizens. We always invest the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement wisely so that we can continue to provide financial assistance to our rural areas. When natural disasters strike, the Legislature has entrusted our staff to diligently and timely get the funds out to rebuild and repair our affected communities. You could not have a better crew to get it done than ours. Hats off to everyone.

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