Happy Thanksgiving. While the Golden LEAF office in Rocky Mount is closed today to celebrate the holiday, I wanted to reach out to you during this season of Thanksgiving on the day you would typically see our newsletter. This year has been full of obstacles but I am thankful for how Golden LEAF has faced these challenges with resilience and creativity. As I reflect on my first year at Golden LEAF, I am grateful for the legacy that came before me, the commitment of the Golden LEAF Board and team to the mission and vision of the Foundation, and the opportunities ahead for the communities we serve.
I became president of the Golden LEAF Foundation during its 20th Anniversary year. The LEAF in Golden LEAF stands for long-term economic advancement foundation. The Foundation – funded through the Master Settlement Agreement with major cigarette manufacturers – has had a strong economic footprint in North Carolina. There is not one county Golden LEAF funding has not touched in its two decades. To date, Golden LEAF has supported the creation of more than 65,000 new jobs, more than $695 million in new payroll, and more than $4 billion in capital investment. Over its 20 years, Golden LEAF has helped more than 85,000 people get training or upgrade skills with more than 12,000 industry or third-party credentials earned and more than 3,000 degrees, diplomas, and/ or certificates earned. Since 2000, Golden LEAF has awarded more than $63 million to enable 22,855 students from rural counties to attend two- and four-year colleges and universities in North Carolina.
The Board and staff of Golden LEAF are passionate about supporting the economic growth of North Carolina. In my first four months on the job, I traveled over 10,000 miles meeting with local, state, and regional leaders, as well as learning about organizations that received funding from the Foundation. We held two roundtables – focused on workforce and agriculture – to provide perspective on the funding process, the results and lessons learned. Then, the pandemic hit the country and travel stopped mid-March 2020.
The Golden LEAF Board took quick action to approve $15 million to start the N.C. Rapid Recovery Loan program to support small businesses that were affected by the pandemic. The General Assembly appropriated $75 million to the program which along with other local and private sources totaled nearly $100 million to support our state’s small businesses. So far, the loan program has assisted more than 1,450 small businesses at an average of $43,565 per loan and helped preserve more than 8,432 jobs across the state of North Carolina. Sixty-five percent of the loans were made to support historically underutilized businesses (HUB) and 80% of the loans went to businesses with less than 10 employees. While there is still a long road ahead, we are grateful to help the state’s small businesses make it through this global crisis.
Another way the Golden LEAF Board helped combat the effects of pandemic was through the Golden LEAF Scholarship COVID-19 Fund. The $500,000 scholarship provided 35 community colleges with funding to distribute to 1,242 students who were affected by the pandemic so they could finish their classes and enter the workforce.
The work of the Foundation never faltered, although many of our meetings moved from face-to-face to virtual. The due diligence on proposals was still conducted; funds were still awarded for projects that support new jobs, new infrastructure, new training, and new agriculture opportunities.
In my first year at Golden LEAF, the Board awarded more than $61 million for 121 projects including:
- 19 job creation projects totaling $19.2 million that will create approximately 2,200 jobs over the next several years
- 31 workforce development projects totaling more than $10.8 million to enable training for high demand jobs
- $5 million to provide scholarships to attend the state’s community colleges and four-year colleges and universities as well as provide leadership training
- $2.5 million for projects to provide agriculture training, research, and equipment
- 62 disaster recovery projects totaling $23 million to help communities recover from Hurricanes Matthew, Florence, Michael, and Dorian.
Our dedicated team continues to review applications the Board will be considering in the coming months.
This summer, the Board launched a strategic planning process to help guide how we will move forward in the next three to five years. The process will wrap up early next year and we look forward to sharing our vision with you.
Rest assured, Golden LEAF will continue to be a partner for the long-term economic success of North Carolina.
Although there is a long hard road ahead in economic recovery, we look forward to continuing our work with local governments, community colleges, and nonprofits in moving rural, tobacco-dependent, and economically distressed areas of our state forward. Our communities are strong and facing these challenges head on to overcome the adversity we have faced as we navigate through these trying times.
As we pause today to give thanks for all we do have, let us also look forward to the future with the same grit and determination that has kept us resilient as we have overcome other disasters and trying times in the past.