Recently, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton sat down with Economist Dr. Michael Walden via Zoom and filmed the first in a new series called Critical Conversations. In this series, Scott talks with professionals about economic development issues affecting the state.
Dr. Walden provided a great perspective on where he sees the need for economic investment to move the needle in North Carolina’s communities.
During the conversation, Dr. Walden brought up the need for rural broadband infrastructure. Golden LEAF has supported infrastructure in rural areas through the Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative administered by MCNC. The initiative included two federal funds totaling $104 million, $24 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation, and $10 million from the MCNC Endowment. The Golden LEAF Rural Broadband Initiative was completed in 2012 with 2,653 total miles of high-speed broadband connecting to public institutions such as schools, libraries, and colleges.
Dr. Walden also talked about the importance of growing manufacturing. At the April 2021 Board meeting, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded $4 million to the Town of Holly Springs to upgrade a sewer pump station to provide the capacity necessary to support Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies. This biomanufacturing company will locate a manufacturing facility in Holly Springs, make a capital investment of $1.5 billion, and create 725 new jobs paying average annual wages of $99,848. Golden LEAF has been a strong supporter of growing manufacturing in the state through both workforce training programs and job creation projects.
In the area of agribusiness, Dr. Walden sees the need to continue to build the agribusiness workforce and support innovation. He specifically mentioned the Plant Sciences Building at North Carolina State University, which was supported with $47 million in funding from the Golden LEAF Foundation. This facility will create opportunities to grow the state’s thriving agricultural industry into a global leader – by developing new products, conducting research and educating our next generations of agriculture industry employees for the jobs of the future.
To build a skilled workforce, Dr. Walden thinks that the focus should be on the North Carolina Community College System. Since 2000, Golden LEAF has provided thousands of scholarships to students from rural areas to attend our state’s community colleges. Golden LEAF also supports programs that are in direct response to the needs of local employers. Golden LEAF seeks to improve workforce preparedness in communities by increasing the number of qualified individuals with skills aligned with current and future needs of local business and industry. Golden LEAF invests in projects that prepare students with the technical and life skills necessary to enter work. Learn more about Golden LEAF’s funding priorities in workforce programs here.
Critical Conversations will now be a feature in the Golden LEAF e-newsletter every other month. Look for the next Critical Conversations in the June 10th edition of LEAF Lines.