Previous Golden LEAF projects support COVID-19 frontline workers

The good work of past Golden LEAF grant recipients continues to make an impact on the lives of North Carolina’s workers, farmers, and frontline public servants even during unprecedented and challenging times. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many economic and personal hardships throughout the state, it has also spurred entrepreneurial action as businesses and organizations figure out how to work with the current limitations. Whether it is refitting operations to help manufacture more personal protective equipment (PPE), or using existing resources and facilities to help with testing, or leading the charge in finding innovative ways to educate and train others on farm safety support, our local business and industry leaders are jumping in to do their part to help those in need and at greatest risk.

North Carolina is a state particularly known for pulling together in difficult times, and the Golden LEAF Foundation is proud of the connection we have to the leaders in this effort to repurpose valuable resources to support frontline workers and the economy in such challenging circumstances.

Part of the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 has involved the increased demand of PPE by healthcare workers and citizens. In Brevard, SylvanSport has made monumental efforts in responding to this crisis. The camping equipment manufacturer is now making face shields for first responders and hospitals throughout western North Carolina and is also making foot-operated door openers, surgical masks, Tyvek suits and sneeze shields. With support from Golden LEAF in 2016, Transylvania County constructed the building that SylvanSport now leases. Since occupying the building, the company has expanded its operations and created new opportunities for the region’s economy.

“The Sylvan Valley Industrial Building Project would not have been possible without Golden LEAF funds combined with county and city investment,” said Jaime Laughter, Transylvania County Manager. “This project was important to our county because it not only allowed for a homegrown business to grow here, but it also generates lease income to help us invest in future projects.”

By switching gears from camping equipment to helping support healthcare professionals, SylvanSport is making a difference in ways that local leaders could never have imagined.

“The project has become an even more meaningful investment during COVID-19 as we have seen SylvanSport start to make PPE to meet the demand to protect frontline workers in this pandemic,” said Laughter. “The original project was in the spirit of supporting local business economic development and growth. SylvanSport has taken that investment and pivoted to meet community and regional needs in a crisis in the same spirit of resilience.”

In Boone, Watauga Opportunities Inc. is supporting efforts to administer COVID-19 testing by assembling and packaging the sample collection vials used in COVID-19 test kits and lab testing.  It is also helping produce PPE.

“We received an initial order for 750,000 sample collection vials and another this week for 1 million, along with orders for other vials used in lab testing,” said Michael Maybee, President and CEO of Watauga Opportunities Inc. “The end customers are the CDC, NIH, LabCorp and other testing labs. We take this endeavor very seriously and are very proud of the important role we are playing in the United States’ war against COVID-19.”

Watauga Opportunities Inc. is uniquely positioned to do this work, thanks in part to a 2009 Golden LEAF award that supported a clean room expansion effort. The expansion of the controlled-environment medical manufacturing area helped to meet the sales growth Watauga Opportunities Inc. was experiencing at the time. Now this clean room is helping to save lives on an enormous scale.

“Our Golden LEAF grant allowed for the expansion of our rural medical assembly and packaging-controlled environment space,” said Maybee. “This extended space is of particular importance now during the COVID -19 pandemic, as it allows us the ‘physical distancing’ space employees need to safely assemble and package the sample collection vials being used in the actual COVID-19 test kits and for other lab functions. Our adjoining controlled environment space is being used to cut plastic for 800,000 face shields, so the Golden LEAF space allows the room necessary to safely produce both essential products.”

Another aspect of COVID-19 is making sure that food products are safely and properly handled from the farmers and food producers to the customer.

In 2016, Golden LEAF supported a North Carolina State University (NCSU) project to collaborate with the NC Fresh Produce Safety Task Force and others to deliver training programs that help farmers and processors modernize food safety measures at farm and food manufacturing operations.

NCSU recently held a training that helped approximately 260 farmers and produce growers learn how they could keep themselves, their workers and their customers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The focus of the training was to provide background information on COVID-19 and to provide information and recommendations that fresh produce growers, particularly small growers selling direct to consumers, could use to manage their operations while the current COVID-19 outbreak continues,” said Chip Simmons, NCSU Area Specialized Agent, Agriculture – Food Safety.

The recommendations to growers included providing training to anyone who works at the farm, monitoring the health of those on the farm, providing functioning hand wash stations, limiting access to visitors where produce is staged for sale, and continuing to routinely clean and sanitize on the farm and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.

These unprecedented times bring out some of the brightest ideas on how to move forward. Golden LEAF is proud to see how the initial funding to support economic development projects is now helping to providing critical products and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These industries and organizations are working hard to support frontline workers. If your organization received Golden LEAF support and is able to use resources related to the project to provide support to those impacted by this pandemic, please send an email to Jenny Tinklepaugh, Communications Officer, at jtinklepaugh@goldenleaf.org so we can help tell your story.

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