I would like to share some of the reasons I am thankful this year. November 2023 marked the end of my fourth year as president, chief executive officer at Golden LEAF.
From November 2022 to November 2023, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors awarded approximately $20 million to help create jobs and economic investment, help train workers for available jobs, support the agriculture industry, and provide needed infrastructure for job creation through the Open Grants Program and the Community-Based Grants Initiative in the Southeast Prosperity Zone.
As I reflect upon this last year, I am grateful for the doors that open for economic opportunity and resilience.
In my role at the Foundation, I have the privilege of visiting with communities across the state to hear about potential Golden LEAF projects, seeing the success of Golden LEAF projects that have been implemented, and helping to connect those with an idea to those that have been down that road before and know the way.
Across all communities, a common thread of success is local leadership.
Whether it’s the community college president committed to bringing resources to an underserved area of the county, the county manager determined to increase private capital investment, or a nonprofit leader driven to tackle gaps for those in need, the most resilient communities have those leaders. Behind those leaders, and critical to success, are volunteers cheering them on and pushing them forward. Organizations and individuals who are willing to lend their voice, their support, their funds, and their time to supporting the advancement of a project in the community.
I am thankful to know that North Carolina is full of these leaders and are growing our next generation of leaders through programs like the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program. The Board awarded more than $5 million to support scholarships to students in rural and tobacco-dependent communities to attend our state’s colleges and universities.
This year, we have been focused on growing the Rural Internship Initiative, a component of the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program that provides scholars with the opportunity to have internships in qualifying rural communities. What our data shows is that students who have the opportunity to develop a professional network in a rural community through work experience are more likely to return to a rural community after graduation. In some cases, even returning to their internship site as a full-time employee.
When students can see themselves in a role in their community aligned with their field of study, it connects all of the dots between their interests and passion and how to turn that into a career.
Golden LEAF is committed to using our network of grantees, and the networks of those grantees, to identify opportunities for Golden LEAF Scholars in rural communities. Golden LEAF will fund internships at businesses, nonprofits, and governmental entities.
It only takes one internship, one professional reference, to change the trajectory of a student’s career. It only takes one person to hold open the door. You can hold that door open by filling out our Internship Site Interest Survey. This survey lets us know you are interested in being matched with a Golden LEAF Scholar as an intern. Golden LEAF covers the stipend for the intern if you are matched.
While we are cultivating a network of next generation leaders, Golden LEAF is also helping its current economic development leaders open doors for communities to invite new industry to the area and support existing industries looking to expand.
The SITE Program was formed out of Golden LEAF’s strategic plan adopted in 2021. Through this program, Golden LEAF provides support to communities to identify potential sites for economic development, enables completion of due diligence on sites already identified, or extends public utilities to or conduct grading and clearing of sites for which due diligence has been completed. The SITE Program consists of the three phases and communities are able to participate in the program in any of the three phases, and a site may progress from Identification, to Due Diligence, to Development over time.
I am thankful that since November 2022, the Golden LEAF Board of Directors has awarded 21 projects totaling $10.3 million to support three different stages of industrial site development in Ashe, Caldwell, Catawba, Columbus, Duplin, Forsyth, Jackson, Lenoir, Madison, McDowell, Nash, Onslow, Randolph, Rockingham, Sampson, Stanly, Warren, Washington, and Wilkes counties. Stay tuned for new SITE Program projects to be awarded at our December 2023 meeting.
I am thankful that the State of North Carolina has entrusted Golden LEAF with funding to support flood mitigation and to provide funding to expand food distribution programs.
The Flood Mitigation Program is opening the doors of natural disaster resilience for communities by providing better infrastructure. The Flood Mitigation Program launched February 1, 2022. This program is a result of $25 million in funding from the State to provide funding to local governments for public infrastructure projects that will result in the mitigation of flooding. Through the Flood Mitigation Program, the Board awarded $7.8 million since November 2022 in funding for construction of new or improvement of existing publicly owned stormwater infrastructure, including natural drainage infrastructure and flood control equipment; repair of existing stormwater infrastructure damaged or destroyed by flooding, which must include improvements to mitigate against flooding; or engineering expenses related to planning and development of flood mitigation solutions.
With the Food Distribution Assistance Program, doors have been opened to new grantees Golden LEAF has not had the chance to support through its economic development programs. I am thankful for the opportunity for Golden LEAF to extend its network to nonprofits we might not otherwise have the chance to work with in our traditional programming. The Food Distribution Assistance Program launched November 1, 2022. The N.C. General Assembly appropriated $10 million to Golden LEAF for the Food Distribution Assistance Program. This program is funded by federal State Fiscal Recovery Funds through the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The first awards through the Food Distribution Assistance Program were made in June 2023 with the Board awarding $2.8 million to nonprofits across the state. Funds in this program may be used for grants to nonprofit organizations to assist those organizations in either becoming eligible to be partner agencies of a North Carolina food bank or enhancing or expanding the capacity of current partner agencies of North Carolina food banks. Funds may also be used for grants to nonprofit organizations to assist those organizations in either establishing a school-based weekend food assistance program or enhancing or expanding the capacity of current school-based weekend food assistance programs. The last round of funding for this program will be made at the December 2023 meeting.
Golden LEAF continues to be a strong partner for the long-term economic success of North Carolina. As part of our strategy to keep an eye on the needs in our state, I am thankful that the Golden LEAF Board has supported a strategic plan for North Carolina’s agribusiness industry. On November 9th, the Golden LEAF Foundation and the NC Chamber Foundation, with support from NC Farm Bureau and Google, formally announced NC Ag Leads, a pivotal strategic planning initiative for the North Carolina agriculture industry that will position the state’s number one economic driver for continued success. The initiative will be overseen by a steering committee that includes Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler in addition to representatives of Golden LEAF, the NC Farm Bureau, and the NC Chamber. We look forward to the doors this plan will open for North Carolina’s agriculture industry.
As I look to the new year, Golden LEAF will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024. I am thankful that our Board of Directors is committed to the mission of Golden LEAF and implementing the Strategic Plan they adopted in 2021. Our Board continues to assess the needs of the state and is exploring the best ways for Golden LEAF to play a role in supporting strategies that will address these needs now and in the future. Look for new programs and initiatives to be announced in the coming year to continue on 25 years of long-term economic advancement.
As we recognize all we have to be thankful for, let us also look to continuing to open the doors of opportunity to grow our state’s economy.