Recently, Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton sat down with Don Flow, Immediate Past Chair of the Golden LEAF Foundation Board of Directors via Zoom and filmed an episode of Critical Conversations. In this series, Scott talks with professionals about economic development issues affecting the state.
Golden LEAF’s mission is to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural, tobacco-dependent, and economically distressed communities through leadership in grantmaking, collaboration, innovation, and stewardship as an independent and perpetual foundation. The Foundation, governed by a board of directors appointed by leaders of North Carolina’s legislative and executive branches, has focused on critical issues facing rural communities.
Mr. Flow was the Chair of the Golden LEAF Board of Directors in 2022 and 2023, officially beginning his term following the December 2021 Board meeting.
Mr. Flow is Chairman and CEO of Flow Automotive Companies. He has about 20 years of experience working with economic development organizations, starting in Winston-Salem. Mr. Flow shared that he helped found what was called Winston-Salem Business, Inc. and has chaired the Board. He said the organization was created specifically to attract companies to Winston-Salem. He said with Winston-Salem, Inc. trying to recruit businesses to the area, they realized a need to work to build strong partnerships, not only locally, but with the state. Mr. Flow said that Winston-Salem, Inc. started a business park which was about 1.7 million square feet and created about 800 jobs. He is also the chair of the board of the Winston-Salem Alliance, which is a strategic board for senior executives in his part of the state. The Winston-Salem Alliance has taken a strategic long-term look at economic development and the determinants of economic development including education and healthcare. Mr. Flow is also Vice Chair of the Piedmont Triad Partnership. This partnership includes the areas of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point and has expanded into what has become known as the NC Carolina Core. Since this collaborative approach has been formed, there have been tremendous announcements of new jobs in the last two years. Mr. Flow also takes a Board level role with the area medical center, which is one of the largest employers in the area with approximately 25,000 workers. The medical center and the medical school are major economic drivers in the area.
The Golden LEAF Board takes on an important role in the vetting of economic development projects. Mr. Flow said that with each project he thinks about the purpose of what Golden LEAF is trying to accomplish. He then thinks about the appropriate projects that support that purpose. Finally, he likes to know who the partners are and what partners should be involved with the project. He added Golden LEAF looks at creating and retaining jobs, which is why Golden LEAF participates in ways to attract new businesses and help businesses expand. Often, Mr. Flow added, Golden LEAF provides the public infrastructure needed to help move the project forward. He said economic development projects help enable people to flourish in a community because there is always a multiplier effect with either new companies or existing companies that want to grow and already have roots in those communities. He added that Golden LEAF doesn’t come into a community and tell people how to do things. Golden LEAF asks how we can fill in gaps to be a catalyst to making a project become reality. Mr. Flow said Golden LEAF works with local government officials and meets with the Department of Commerce to discuss all the state’s economic projects. Mr. Flow said that each project is vetted on the number of full time jobs, the compensation level that’s associated with those jobs, how compensation is compared to county average wages, and the capital the company is committing.
Mr. Flow was the catalyst behind the recently announced NC Ag Leads. Mr. Flow said that the discussion has been in the works for a long time with the diverse backgrounds of the Golden LEAF board and the knowledge and expertise they bring. Mr. Flow explained that there are a lot of challenges and opportunities ahead in the agriculture industry. He shared that organizations from small farmers to large agribusiness will be affected by decisions made for the industry as a whole. NC Ag Leads is serving as a convener to pull together the diverse voices in agribusiness. He said NC Ag Leads is at the beginning of conversations. The ultimate goal of NC Ag Leads is to have a strategic plan with organizations that can implement a set of priorities that are both aspirational and attainable, and which, if given effect, would significantly strengthen the productivity, economic vitality, and community spirit of our sector. He added that the Steering Committee consists of Ag leaders in North Carolina and a team dedicated to putting in the work. Golden LEAF Board Members Lawrence Davenport, Laurence Lilley, and Don Flow; Golden LEAF President, Chief Executive Officer Scott T. Hamilton; NC Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler; NC Farm Bureau President Shawn Harding; and NC Chamber President and CEO Gary Salamido are serving on the Steering Committee. NC Ag Leads staff include General Counsel of the NC Chamber and President of the NC Chamber Legal Institute Ray Starling, Associate State Legislative Director at NC Farm Bureau Laura Killian and Sarah Grace Stone NC Ag Leads Administrator are serving as staff for NC Ag Leads.
Mr. Flow shared that Golden LEAF has helped create 67,000 jobs, which has created over $700 million in new payroll, and supported the training of more than 95,000 people. He added that the investment in our Golden LEAF Scholarship Program has helped the next generation of rural students have the opportunity to attend college, which will change the trajectory of their lives by giving them access to education. Mr. Flow also said that Golden LEAF has worked in partnership with communities to help them think more strategically about long-term economic advancement. He also shared his deep appreciation of the Board to come together to make decisions based on a shared mission and vision for the state.
Critical Conversations is a feature in the Golden LEAF newsletter every month. The next edition will be in our January 11th edition of LEAF Lines.