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Rural policy update: Where we stand in Raleigh, Washington, D.C.

patrickwoodieBy Patrick Woodie
President
Connect with Patrick on Twitter @patrickwoodie
 
 The Rural Center is dedicated to keeping you up-to-date as policy is debated in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. See below to download our
rural-focused, bill-tracking summaries.   
 

N.C. General Assembly

The immoveable iceberg of state budget negotiations appears to be thawing. State Senate leadership is proposing a budget cap of $21.65 billion, a little more than the Senate initially proposed, but still less than the House wanted.  

In exchange, the Senate is willing to remove Medicaid reform and econcomic development policy from the budget — two of the most significant budget policy differences between the House and the Senate.

Click here for our analysis of the major rural economic development items in the state budget, as well as the major differences between the two houses.    

U.S. Congress

With the U. S. House and Senate out of town for its summer recess, some action has been made, at least at the committee level, on all 12 of the FY2016 federal appropriations bills.  

There is already talk of a contuing resolution to fund the government beyond the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30. The House and the Senate will return to Washington, D.C., after Labor Day and are expected to be in session until mid-December.

 Click here for an up-to-date summary on the rural economic development program funding levels we are tracking in the multiple appropriations bills.

  

Rural Center welcomes hundreds to advocacy meetings


By Matt Ehlersehlers2
Director of Communications

 

Thanks to the help of more than 300 people from across the state who attended our meetings this summer in Williamston, Franklin, Lenoir, Clinton, Henderson and Troy, the Rural Center is armed with a wealth of information with which to build a rural advocacy agenda for North Carolina. jason lenoir

Among the topics that bubbled to the surface: the need for rural infrastructure improvements, the migration of young people to metro areas, and the debate over a proposal in the legislature to change the formula for distributing sales tax revenue. 

Center staff are in the process of combing through the comments, criticisms and suggestions that were presented to us. Over the next few months, we will be combining that information with the latest rural data and research in order to draft a rural policy agenda to present this winter to the N.C. Rural Center Board of Directors. We plan to publicly roll out our agenda prior to the 2016 session of the N.C. General Assembly. 

If you were unable to attend the meetings, please see this presentation, which was delivered by Jason Gray, the Rural Center's senior fellow for policy and research. We have also been distributing this short survey via social media; we'd appreciate your input. If you have any additional questions or comments, please write mehlers@ncruralcenter.org.

Eastern N.C. towns: Host a disaster resiliency workshop

chilton webBy Chilton Rogers
Director of Community Engagement

 

The Rural Center is seeking three towns in Eastern North Carolina that have flood and disaster mitigation experience to host a resiliency training workshop.

hurricane isabelEach town will host a daylong training seminar with support from the Rural Center. 

Selected towns will receive a $5,000 award/stipend for hosting the training. The objectives are to give local community and business leaders the training and tools they need to increase their disaster resiliency, and to ensure more successful post‐disaster economic recoveries in Eastern North Carolina.

Only communities/small towns with a population of fewer than 7,500 people within the specified 39-county geographic area are eligible to apply. The deadline to apply is Aug. 31, 2015.

Download the Request for Proposals for more information and explanation of requirements. The three towns will be selected through a competitive process. If you have any questions, please write crogers@ncruralcenter.org. 

State budget negotiations: The rural perspective

patrickwoodie

By Patrick Woodie
President
Connect with Patrick on Twitter @patrickwoodie

 

The N.C. General Assembly last week approved a temporary budget that keeps state government operating through August 14. Now the real negotiations begin between the House and the Senate.

The number and breadth of the policy changes contained in the Senate budget are difficult to summarize concisely and will likely lead to lengthy budget negotiations. 

With that said, on appropriation items of signifigant interest to rural, here is how the two chambers stack up:

Community Development Tools

House

  • Division of Water Infrastructure (DENR) - $11.27 million in FY ’16 and $12.7 million in FY ’17 for water and wastewater infrastructure grants for “rural, economically distressed areas,” plus $9.7 million for state matching funds to draw down federal water and wastewater revolving loan funds.  Of the FY ’16 money, there is $10 million from non-recurring funds for infrastructure grants, of which $5 million is limited to Tier 1 and $5 million for Tier 2, but the Tier 2 funds are earmarked. Additional provisions change the priority system for these non-federal loans and grants.

Senate

  • Only appropriates the state matching funds for the wastewater revolving loan funds ($5,300,000 over the biennium)

 House

  • The Rural Economic Development Division in Commerce will get $9.6 million in FY ‘16 and $10.9 million in FY ‘17.  It appears from the special provisions that this money is to fund a new grant program "Underserved & Limited Resource Communities/Economic Development Grants."  (Commerce is to develop the criteria for these grants.)

Senate

  • Eliminates $2.5 million for the “Underserved & Limited Resource Communities” and provides $4,410,000 per year in non-recurring funds to expand the existing grant programs (less $390,000/year in recurring funding – a net of $4,020,000/year).

In agreement – Community Development Block Grant

  • Subject to federal funds availability, Commerce will receive $15.7 million to make economic development grants and DENR will receive $26.7 million for infrastructure grants, each year, from Community Development Block Grant funds.  This amount is consistent in both the House and the Senate versions.

In agreement – DOT will receive $2 million/year for its Rural (public transportation) Capital Grant Program.  This amount is consistent in both the House and the Senate versions.

 

House

  • Clean Water Management Trust Fund will be separated from the Natural Heritage Program and would receive $14 million in new funds - $50 million in availability for the biennium (including $4 million that only can be spent on military buffers). 

Senate

  • Provides $17,140,907 in new funds – bringing total support to $46.7 million over the biennium.  That total includes $2 million that only can be spent on military buffers, $2.25 million for administrative expenses (restricting the use of other funds for that purpose), and a provision that earmarks $4.5 million for “strategies to mitigate water quality impairment.”

House

  • Commerce’s Main Street Solutions Fund is slated to receive $1 million in FY’16 from non-recurring dollars to provide matching grants to local governments to revitalize downtowns.

Senate

  • Provides $2 million in FY ’16, but $1 million of that amount is earmarked for a specific (but un-named) town.

House

  • The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund is to receive an additional $12.5 million (non-recurring) in FY’16 and $1.48 million (recurring) in FY ’17 to bring the funds available to $42.5 million for the biennium.

Senate

  • Provides $5.16 million over the biennium to bring the total available to $31.9 million.

 

House Budget Only

  • Money is set aside to finance several pending House bills, including $1 million for the Healthy Food, Small Retailer Corner Store Act.

 

  • The Support Center is to be allocated $2.5 million/year from non-recurring funds. 

 

  • Budget provisions create a pilot program to assist community colleges in establishing new programs for workforce development.  The pilot program is limited to Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties and will be financed by $2 million/year from non-recurring money.

 

  • The Tobacco Trust Fund Program is to receive $1.559 million from non-recurring money to increase the program to $2.5 million in FY ’16 and $3 million in FY’17.

 

Business Assistance Tools

House

  • The One NC Small Business Fund is to receive $5 million each year of the biennium. 

Senate

  • Provides $3 million each year of the biennium.

 

In agreement – JDIG numbers

  • The appropriation for JDIG is $57,816,215 in FY ’16 and $71,728,126 in FY ’17.  (These numbers represent a decrease of $5,229,142 in FY ’16 and an increase of $8,682,769 in FY ’17.)  These numbers are the same in both the House and the Senate versions of the budget; however, there are significant policy differences between the two versions.

 

In agreement – One NC Fund numbers

  • The appropriation for One NC is $6,995,976 in FY ’16 and $9,000,000 in FY ’17. (The amount for FY ’16 represents a decrease of $2,004,024.)  These numbers are the same in both House and Senate versions of the budget; however, there are policy differences between the two versions.

 

House

  • NC Biotechnology Center would receive a $5 million/year increase from recurring funds, bringing the total available to $13.6 million.

Senate

  • Would eliminate funding for the Biotechnology Center.

House

  • The Film Grant Fund is to get an additional $40 million in FY ’16 from fund balances and $40 million in FY’17.

Senate

  • Would appropriate $10 million/year from non-recurring funds for each year of the biennium.

House

  • The budget targets $1.85 million to aid shellfish and oyster rehabilitation and research.

Senate

  • Would provide $2.05 million.  (The key difference is in the amount appropriated for research and development related to oysters.)

House

  • The House adds $1 million in FY’16 and $2 million in FY ’17 for Commerce to use in marketing and branding the state for travel and business development.

Senate

  • Eliminates $1.5 million per year for marketing and branding.

 

House Budget Only

  • Commerce will receive funding to establish two competitive grant programs:  1) Rallying Investors & Skilled Entrepreneurs for NC (RISE NC) is to focus on increasing start-up companies, especially those that are high-tech ($2.5 million/year for each year of the biennium). 2) A University Innovation Commercialization Grant Program is to aid in commercializing research from universities and non-profits ($2.5 million in FY ’16 and $5 million in FY’17).

 

  • The NC Venture Muliplier Fund will tap resources in the Escheats Fund (about $40 million) to fund innovations and inventors that have potential commercial value.

 

Senate Budget Only

  • The Senate would appropriate $13,000,000 for the Site Infrastructure Development Fund (in Commerce) in FY ’16.

 

Other provisions

House

  • The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund is slated to receive $2.5 million from recurring funds in FY ’17 and $91, 624 from recurring funds in both years of the biennium.

Senate

  • Reduces the FY ’16 appropriations by $500,000 and substitutes funding from the TVA Settlement, providing a total available of $2.6 million.

House

  • Provides $20 million from non-recurring funds for each year of the biennium to the Housing Finance Agency to assist with the development of low-income housing units, statewide.

Senate

  • Uses a portion of the Standard and Poors Settlement to support the program with $10 million in FY’ 16 and $9.3 million in FY ’17.  In addition, the Senate would appropriate $700,000 from non-recurring money in FY ’17 to send $10 million/year to the Housing Finance Agency for the program.

 

In agreement – Rural Health Loan Repayment

  • Special provisions will permit DHHS to expand the Rural Health Loan Repayment programs to use state incentives for general surgeons practicing in Critical Access Hospitals and to offer loan repayment program funds for providers using telemedicine to serve rural and underserved areas.  Both House and Senate versions of the budget will permit this change.

 

In agreement – Eliminate apprenticeship fees

  • The budget eliminates the apprenticeship fees.  This provision is included in both the House and the Senate versions of the budget.

 

In agreement – ECU Medical School and matching dollars

  • Additional funding and/or authority is provided to specific rural areas and facilities (such as $8 million/year to provide sustainability for the ECU medical school, and dollars for specific counties to provide federal grant matching money).  These provisions are in both House and Senate versions of the budget.

 

House Budget Only

  • A school connectivity initiative is to bring broadband connectivity to all K-12 public school buildings (a school-level internal Wi-Fi network).  The budget adds $12 million/year to expand the funds available ($60 million in E-rate funds, plus $7.9 million in state base budget funds).

 

Of potential interest

New departments and major changes

Governor proposed a new department of Military and Veterans Affairs and a new department of Information Technology.  Also proposed was the transfer of state attractions (parks, aquariums, state zoo, etc.) to the Department of Cultural Resources.

  • Both House and Senate budgets create a new Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
  • The Senate budget creates a new Department of Information Technology.  The House budget consolidates information technology functions under the current Information Technology Services Office/State Chief Information Officer.
  • The Senate budget creates a new Department of Natural and Cultural Resources that will include programs and personnel transferred from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (parks, state trails, aquariums, the Zoo, the Museum of Natural Sciences (the one with the globe in front),   (Also adds the Museum of Forestry [renamed Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville] as a satellite of the Museum of Natural Sciences.) 
  • In the Senate budget, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources becomes the Department of Environmental Quality
  • The Senate also directs the two re-named departments are to study the possibility of also transferring the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Partnership, Coastal Reserves Program, Office of Land and Water Stewardship, Environmental Education and Public Affairs, Marine Fisheries, and the Wildlife Resources Commission.
  • The House budget directs the Departments of Cultural Resources and Environment and Natural Resources to develop a plan by 2/1/16 to consider the transfer of the Museum of Natural Science, the Zoo, the aquariums, state parks the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Services, and Environmental Education.  The plan also is to address operations and maintenance of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Pigeon River Fund, the Natural Heritage Program, the Coastal Reserve Program, and the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership.

 Tax policy changes

  • The House budget raises fees, including DMV fees for renewal of drivers licenses and inspections, but decreases the gas tax.  The House budget also extends the renewable energy tax credit, creates a new historic preservation tax credit, re-establishes a tax deduction for medical expenses, extends the sales tax preference for motor sports, incorporates the provisions for tax exemption for datacenters (S 42), and exempts service contracts for aircraft and agricultural fair admissions from sales taxes.
  • The Senate budget incorporates the Senate’s tax proposals, including changes to the corporate tax and income tax, the application of sales tax, and the distribution of sales tax revenues to local governments.  The Senate authorizes a new local government option for the sales tax.

 

 

Leadership institute graduates its 25th class

mistyBy Misty Herget
Director of Leadership

 

 
In June, 33 dynamic rural leaders and guests filled the auditorium at the N.C. General Assembly to celebrate the completion of the 25th Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI).
 

The day began with opening remarks from Patrick Woodie, President of the N.C. Rural Center. REDI alumna Jennifer Gregory of Vance County, and Jim Rose of Yadkin Bank and the N.C. Rural Center Board of Directors, also delivered inspirational remarks. At the conclusion of the ceremony, graduates congregated with guests faculty and staff to share congratulations and gratitude for their experience.

To earn their certificate, participants attended nine days of training spread over three months. They studied and applied economic and community development strategies, honed leadership and team-building skills, discovered resources available to their communities, and joined a network of rural leaders to share information and experiences.

The Institute was comprised of elected officials, local and state government professionals, civic and grassroots leaders, and business leaders. Beyond REDI, the learning and networking continue among peers and other leaders across the state through alumni gatherings and continuing education opportunities.

The graduates are now part of an alumni network of over 1,000 across the state that live in or serve rural N.C. It’s critical to maintain and nurture the connections and continuous learning opportunities among rural leaders so they have the resources and tools necessary to continuously improve their communities and make them the best places to live, work and play in the state.

Graduates have:

• Revitalized community pride and built cohesion.

• Launched projects in job creation and training, visioning and planning, housing, healthcare and job-skills training.

• Organized local leadership programs.

• Been appointed or elected to public office, boards and advisory committees.

The Institute has had a profound impact on the lives of many rural North Carolinians. Not only has the class been a transformational experience for individuals, but it has empowered leaders to influence positive change and transformation in their communities and regions.

REDI continues each year to see a large and highly competitive applicant pool of local elected officials, local, state and federal government staff, nonprofit and faith community leaders, and small business owners. Applications and information for REDI 2016 will be available on our website in September.

Please don’t hesitate to write Misty Herget or call 919-250-4314 for more information.

REDI Class of 2015:

REDI 2015 graduation photo

Christina Alphin (Stanly County), Wanda Bennett (Carteret County), Michael Brandt (Rockingham County), Lisa Brisson (Robeson County), Beth Bucksot (Pamlico County), Angie Chandler (Buncombe County), Catesby Denison (Caswell County), Sally Elliott (Stokes County), Charlotte Fitz Daniels (Pitt County), Jeff Foster (Wilkes County), Kate Gavenus (Avery/Watauga counties), Kevin Hardison (Wake County), Karen Harshman (Burke County), Eve Hemby (Beaufort County), Tiffany Henry (Jackson County), Anita Hicks (Vance County), Sarah Johnson (Hyde County), Amy Joslin (Pitt County), Matthew Livingston (Duplin/Pender counties), Todd Lyden (Bladen County), Elma Patterson (Robeson County), Christina Piard (Wake County), Andre Rowe (Northampton County), Jonathan Russell (Wilson County), Kervin Spivey (Bertie County), Keith L. Spivey (Wayne County), Sarah Thompson (Jackson County), Edward Waltz (Jones County), Morris White (Vance County), Weyling White (Hertford County), Janice Wilkinson (Rockingham County), Holly Yanker (Wake County), John York (Randolph County)




Rural Highlights of the House budget: The N.C. General Assembly at halftime

patrickwoodieBy Patrick Woodie
President
Connect with Patrick on Twitter @patrickwoodie
 
 

Those of you who follow the biennial budget process are familiar with the progression: the governor proposes a budget and then the N.C. House (because it was its turn to start the process this year) passes a budget. Next, the N.C. Senate takes its turn and passes its own budget, and finally, the differences in the House and Senate versions are resolved in conference committee.

Then, a final budget passes and makes its way to the governor's desk. The governor can sign it, veto it (in which case three-fifths of the members present in each chamber must vote to override — and if they don't, they go back to the drawing board), or the governor can let it become law without his signature.

Well, the House has finished its work and we've officially arrived at halftime in the current session of the N.C. General Assembly. Here are the rural highlights of the state budget passed by a bipartisan majority in the N.C. House of Representatives:

Community development tools

• Division of Water Infrastructure (N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources) — Appropriated $11.27 million in fiscal year ’16 and $12.7 million in FY ’17 for water and wastewater infrastructure grants for “rural, economically distressed areas,” plus $9.7 million for state matching funds to draw down federal water and wastewater revolving loan funds. Of the FY ’16 money, there is $10 million from non-recurring funds for infrastructure grants, of which $5 million is limited to Tier 1 counties and $5 million for Tier 2 counties, but the Tier 2 funds are earmarked. Additional provisions change the priority system for these non-federal loans and grants.

• The Rural Economic Development Division in the N.C. Department of Commerce will receive $9.6 million in FY ‘16 and $10.9 million in FY ‘17. It appears from the special provisions that this money is to fund a new grant program, "Underserved & Limited Resource Communities/Economic Development Grants." (Commerce is to develop the criteria for these grants).

• Subject to federal funds availability, Commerce will receive $15.7 million to make economic development grants and DENR will receive $26.7 million for infrastructure grants, each year, from Community Development Block Grant funds.

• Clean Water Management Trust Fund will be separated from the Natural Heritage Program and would receive $14 million in new funds — $50 million in availability for the biennium (including $4 million that only can be spent on military buffers).

• Commerce’s Main Street Solutions Fund is slated to receive $1 million in FY ’16 from non-recurring dollars to provide matching grants to local governments to revitalize downtowns.

• The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund is to receive an additional $12.5 million in FY ’16, to bring the funds available to $42.5 million for the biennium.

• Money is set aside to finance several pending House bills, including $1 million for the Healthy Food, Small Retailer Corner Store Act.

• The Support Center is to be allocated $2.5 million/year from non-recurring funds.

• N.C. DOT will get $2 million/year for its Rural (public transportation) Capital Grant Program.

• Budget provisions create a pilot program to assist community colleges in establishing new programs for workforce development. The pilot program is limited to Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties and will be financed by $2 million each year from non-recurring money.

• The Tobacco Trust Fund Program is to receive $1.559 million from non-recurring money to increase the program to $2.5 million in FY ’16 and $3 million in FY ’17.

 

Business assistance tools

• The One N.C. Small Business Fund is to receive $5 million each year of the biennium.

• Commerce will receive funding to establish two competitive grant programs: 1) Rallying Investors & Skilled Entrepreneurs for N.C. (RISE NC) is to focus on increasing start-up companies, especially those that are high-tech ($2.5 million/year for each year of the biennium). 2) A University Innovation Commercialization Grant Program is to aid in commercializing research from universities and nonprofits ($2.5 million in FY ’16 and $5 million in FY ’17).

• The N.C. Venture Muliplier Fund will tap resources in the Escheats Fund (about $40 million) to fund innovations and inventors that have potential commercial value.

• The budget targets $1.85 million to aid shellfish and oyster rehabilitation and research.

• The Film Grant Fund is to get an additional $40 million in FY ’16 from fund balances and $40 million in FY ’17.

• The Jobs Development Investment Grant program will receive $57.8 million in FY ’16 and $71.7 million in FY ’17, while the One N.C. Fund has $6.9 million available for FY ’16 and $9 million in FY ’17.

 

Other provisions

• The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund is slated to receive $2.5 million in FY ’17.

• A school connectivity initiative is to bring broadband connectivity to all K-12 public school buildings (a school-level internal Wi-Fi network). The budget adds $12 million each year to expand the funds available ($60 million in E-rate funds, plus $7.9 million in state base budget funds).

• Special provisions will permit the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to expand the Rural Health Loan Repayment programs to use state incentives for general surgeons practicing in Critical Access Hospitals, and to offer loan repayment program funds for providers using telemedicine to serve rural and underserved areas.

• The budget eliminates apprenticeship fees.

• Additional funding and/or authority is provided to specific rural areas and facilities (such as $8 million per year to provide sustainability for the East Carolina University medical school, and dollars for specific counties to provide federal grant matching money).

 
Stay tuned for the second half.

Register now for our 2015 advocacy agenda roundtables

 Click map to enlarge.

Advocacy meetings map

This summer, we will be traveling across North Carolina to gather your input as we craft a rural advocacy agenda to benefit the entire state. Please make plans to join us for these free roundtable discussions.

To register, click on the meeting you'd like to attend. Each session includes lunch.

  • July 21        Williamston
  • July 28        Franklin 
  • July 29        Lenoir 
  • August 4     Clinton 
  • August 6     Henderson
  • August 11    Troy (to register, please write to mehlers@ncruralcenter.org)

Capturing the diversity of N.C.: Refining county classifications

jasongrayBy Jason Gray
Senior Fellow, Research and Policy

 

The Rural Center has long classified a rural county as having an average population density below 250 people per square mile. It is a simple, effective definition the center will continue to use. North Carolina, however, is no longer just a rural or urban state. We are refining the overall county classification to better reflect this reality.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, five rural counties crossed the threshold of 250 people per square mile: Pitt, Union, Iredell, Lincoln and Henderson. The Rural Center then classified these counties as “transitional rural” counties, to reflect their retained rural characteristics, even as they suburbanized.

Each of the five transitional counties continues to suburbanize, based on a staff review of 2014 Census Bureau population estimates. To better reflect North Carolina’s demographic diversity, staff made two recommendations to the Rural Center Board of Directors that were adopted on May 27. The first recommendation moved the transitional rural counties out of rural. The second recommendation created a new classification of regional cities and suburban counties. Click to see the new rural county map.

Moving forward, the center will track and analyze data in three classifications:

Rural counties — 80 counties with population densities below 250 people per square mile. These counties are home to a little over 4 million people and 41 percent of the state population. The center’s definition of a rural county remains unchanged.

Regional cities or suburban counties — 14 counties with average population densities between 250 and 750 people per square mile. This accounts for 2.4 million people, or 25 percent of the state population. The five formerly transitional rural counties join this classification.

Urban counties — Six counties with population densities between 750 and 1,933 people per square mile. This classification includes 3.3 million people and is 34 percent of the total state population.

We welcome your questions and comments on this updated classification. We believe it will enable sharper data analysis to support effective advocacy and rural development strategies.

 

 

 

Rural economic development requires balanced approach

image

By Patrick Woodie
President
Connect with Patrick Woodie on Twitter @patrickwoodie

Current debate within the halls of the N.C. General Assembly and on the editorial pages of papers throughout the state is once again centering on what to do about the obvious disparities that exist between the urban and rural areas of this great state. Rural North Carolina welcomes this conversation. When it comes to statewide economic development policy, the economic reality demands immediate action.
 
The numbers tell the story:
 
   Between October 2010 and October 2014, 82 percent of the increase in the number of employed North Carolinians has taken place in 17 counties — and Wake    and Mecklenburg alone lay claim to nearly half of it. 
   Rural North Carolina has lost more than 150,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 15 years – a 40% decline to local economies that were already far less diversified than their urban counterparts.
   Not a single urban county lost population between 2010 and 2013. In that same time frame, 49 of the 85 rural counties did – up from seven between 2000 and 2010.
 
Anyone who has spent time working in economic development knows it is a team sport.  Therefore addressing these rural issues head-on requires a strong partnership between the state and rural areas so that rural North Carolina can access the tools it needs to invest in itself. The current legislative debate provides an excellent opportunity for crafting reasonable and effective policy solutions to help shape this partnership. 
 
While the challenges we face are real, rural North Carolina is not a problem to be solved, but a tremendous state asset and a vital team player. Reasonable, equitable adjustment to economic incentive programs and a broader, stable long-term strategy to support our homegrown businesses and entrepreneurs will result in one North Carolina that is healthy and vibrant from the mountains to the sea.  
 
 

Rural Center receives $250,000 grant to boost small-business capacity

image

By Matt Ehlers
Director of Communications

USDA Rural Development has awarded a $250,000 grant to the N.C. Rural Center as part of the federal Rural Community Development Initiative. The initiative supports rural housing, community facilities and economic development projects.

With the funding, the Rural Center will boost small-business capacity in eight North Carolina communities: Elizabethtown, Elkin, Lansing, Marion, Plymouth, Scotland Neck, Siler City and Star. Each of these communities participated in the Rural Center's N.C. Small Towns Economic Prosperity program (NC STEP). This new initiative will build upon the work of NC STEP by providing a program that includes community coaching, technical assistance and leadership training for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The goal of this project will be to build the capacity of these eight communities to support and nurture small businesses and entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs and small businesses will in turn invest in their communities by starting or expanding businesses, creating new jobs and contributing to the overall quality of life in their small towns.

To accomplish these goals, the Rural Center will partner with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. A national nonprofit, CRE will assist with the training and serve as an advisor to the Rural Center community coaches.

The program is on track to launch this summer.

Thriving rural communities demand strong leaders


Misty Herget - NC Rural Center
By Misty Herget-
Director of Leadership, N.C. Rural Center

 

Who will lead us in the future?

Of all the concerns we hear from rural communities, this is one of the most pressing. Many of North Carolina's small towns are led by tight-knit groups of longtime citizens, and there are fewer and fewer young people to transition into these leadership roles.

During the past two decades, 54 percent of North Carolina's rural counties experienced a decline in their population of young adults, ages 24 to 30. Of these counties, 16 lost more than 20 percent of their young adults.

This leaves fewer rural young people to run for public office, to take over family businesses and farms, and replenish the local workforce.

North Carolina not long ago was considered a predominantly rural state, but the 2010 census showed a clear and continuing shift toward urban. Over the past twenty years, urban areas gained population at a 20 percent higher rate than rural areas.

One major implication of this shift is the dimming of the rural perspective within the N.C. General Assembly. Lawmakers are developing more urban-centric policies. Rural can still have a very impactful and meaningful voice, but there must be strong, knowledgeable and skilled leaders in place to make that happen. 

For 25 years, the Rural Center has recognized the need to develop strong local leadership and help communities build their local leadership capacity.

The Rural Economic Development Institute was designed to teach a comprehensive approach to economic and community development and to develop an individual’s leadership and team-building skills. Since the first REDI class, more than 1,000 leaders have graduated from the program, but the learning doesn't stop there. Graduates join an alumni network and continue to learn from their peers, while fostering strong relationships with other leaders from across the state. 

REDI continues each year to see a large and highly competitive applicant pool of local elected officials, local, state and federal government staff, nonprofit and faith community leaders, and small business owners. This month, I was privileged to be a part of the committee that chose the participants for the 2015 REDI class, which features 35 rural leaders from across the state. In my least favorite part of the job, we also had to turn nearly that many away.

I’m encouraged and hopeful to see such a high demand for the program. It shows a great desire on the part of community leaders who want to continue to develop their skills, share best practices and build their networks.

Because we all share the same goal: to make their communities the best possible places to live, work and play. 

Crowdfunding spurs entrepreneurship and creates jobs

Barry Ryan - NC Rural Center
By Barry Ryan -
Senior Director of Programs, N.C. Rural Center


The N.C. General Assembly is considering legislation (H.B. 14, H.B. 63, S.B. 35 and S.B. 481) that would create an intrastate crowdfunding exemption. Such legislation would enable private companies to raise funds from the public, in exchange for an ownership stake in the business.

The N.C. Providing Access to Capital to Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses (NC PACES) Act (S.B. 481) would allow businesses to raise up to $2 million from individuals who could invest up to $2,000 each. The Rural Center views this proposal as a tool to help early-stage companies access capital to foster innovation and job growth across rural North Carolina.

Facts about the crowdfunding legislation:

  • The bills encourage investment, but they also contain safeguards such as disclosure policies and investment caps to protect against fraud and limit risk.
  • The concept has received support from Gov. Pat McCrory, the N.C. Department of Commerce, the N.C. Chamber, and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development.
  • Fourteen states already have intrastate crowdfunding programs, including Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.
  • The U.S. and Securities and Exchange Commission has released its new crowdfunding rules, but its structure is prohibitive for companies raising less than $10 million. The proposed state legislation favors small businesses and adds flexibility to make crowdfunding an accessible tool for more N.C. companies.

The Rural Center considers entrepreneurship a critical component of a successful economic development strategy, and we operate several programs designed to help small businesses access the capital they need to grow and thrive. Since 2011, the center has made over 500 loans and investments that have leveraged $300 million in private funding and supported 9,200 jobs. Recognizing the needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs, the Rural Center supports the crowdfunding proposal as another tool for raising capital to enable business growth and job creation.

 

soda-jerks



Rural Center client
Waynesville Soda Jerks used Kickstarter to raise funds by offering rewards and perks to their supporters. The new legislation would allow companies to raise funds in exchange for an ownership stake in the business.

A growing entrepreneurial force: military women

Amanda Sorrells - NC Rural center
By Amanda Sorrells -
 Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship, N.C. Rural Center

 

North Carolina boasts the fourth largest military presence in the country, which means that tens of thousands of our nation's most ambitious, driven and dedicated workers call Carolina home. They are a diverse group with wide-ranging skills that translate exceptionally well to the civilian workforce.

While men traditionally have dominated their ranks, more and more women have joined them in recent years. And within that group, a subset will carve out their own special path when they leave the military. They will become entrepreneurs.

The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics predicts that the number of female veterans will increase 14 percent during the next twenty years. The skills they learn in the military — discipline, adaptability and leadership — are exactly the attributes required for running a small business.

This spring, the Rural Center partnered with a number of business-service providers to promote and celebrate entrepreneurship among military women. A New Mission: Military Women as Entrepreneurs was designed to showcase small business resources available throughout the state. More than 120 female veterans, active-duty service members and military spouses participated in the event at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.

I heard from women who operated a wide variety of businesses, from restaurants and management-consulting firms to dog-training and web-design companies. I left inspired by their accomplishments and rededicated to helping them surpass their goals.

As part of its mission, the Rural Center works with entrepreneurs to formulate business plans, improve their access to capital and accelerate their chances of success. But my work is only one component in a much wider network of available services. In Jacksonville, seasoned and rookie entrepreneurs were also able to meet with a number of other organizations, including Coastal Carolina Community College, the Jacksonville — Onslow Chamber of Commerce, the Women's Business Center and the N.C. Military Business Center.

Small businesses are integral to the growth of North Carolina's economy. Together, we are working to help them succeed.

 

2014 N.C. Rural Assembly review

RuralCenter-Forum-Logo Horz

 


If you were there, we hope you found the 2014 N.C. Rural Assembly to be informative and inspiring. If you missed this sold out gathering of more than 400 rural leaders from across the state, we're here to help. This page is designed to be a one-stop shop for everything related to the 2014 N.C. Rural Assembly. Click to view PDFs of each item.

Here you will find an agenda of the day's activities, along with the presentations and materials that were provided to attendees. We will add links to videos of Assembly activities very soon.

Comments or suggestions about this year's event? Please drop us a line.

 

The Rural Center's New Strategic Vision

 

Agenda

 

About the Speakers

 

Morning Presentations

Watch the video

 

The Changing Face of Rural North Carolina

Dr. Rebecca Tippett, Director of Carolina Demography

Carolina Population Center, UNC-Chapel Hill

 

North Carolina's Unequal Recovery

Dr. James Kleckley, Director of the Bureau of Business Research

College of Business, East Carolina University

 

The Workforce Challenge

John Quinterno, Founder and Principal

South by North Strategies, Ltd.

 

Reaction From the Boots on the Ground

Watch the video

Moderated by Tom Campbell of "NC Spin"

 

 

Keynote Address

Watch the video

Hope and Opportunity in Rural America

Darrin L. Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp, Inc.

 

 

The Rural Center: Moving Forward

Patrick Woodie, Rural Center President

 

Rural Award Winners

 

Community Banks of the Year

 

Rural Center Milestones 1987-2014

 

 

 

Rural Center embarks on six-month process to craft new strategic plan

Rural Center embarks on six-month process to craft new strategic plan

For immediate release

Contact: Matt Ehlers, mehlers@ncruralcenter.org or 919-250-4314

 

Building upon its long history of support and advocacy for rural people and places, the N.C. Rural Center Board of Directors has embarked upon a new strategic visioning process.

The Rural Center will employ an in-depth, highly participatory approach, and reach out to thousands of people across North Carolina. Their feedback and ideas for the future of the center and rural North Carolina as a whole will help to shape this endeavor. In addition to a survey that is being distributed throughout the state, the center will conduct personal interviews and convene a series of public meetings to capture the views of rural North Carolina's diverse constituency.

"This will be an exhaustive undertaking," said Patrick Woodie, acting president of the Rural Center. "But it is critically important for the future of the Rural Center and rural North Carolina that we assess the needs so that we can build a framework to address them, and develop programs that create economic development opportunities in the areas of the state that need them the most."

The Rural Center Board of Directors and staff will work with Durham-based MDC to assemble this new vision. MDC will help hone the center's structure and mission, including speaking to current and potential partners of the center.

In its work, MDC can rely on nearly five decades' worth of experience in helping organizations tackle complex issues. It has extensive expertise in crafting innovative rural development strategies, including successful projects in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi. The histories of the Rural Center and MDC even intertwine: an MDC policy paper helped to inform the plan that led to the creation of the Rural Center in 1987.

After many hundreds of hours of work, the Rural Center's new strategic vision will be unveiled at the center's annual conference in October.

"This is an extraordinarily exciting time for the Rural Center," Woodie said. "More than 27 years after the center began, we have an opportunity to re-imagine our responsibilities and refocus our energies. Our approach may shift, but our purpose will not: to create economic opportunities in rural North Carolina."


SBTDC names Tony Johnson a “North Carolina Champion”

SBTDC names Tony Johnson a “North Carolina Champion”

The N.C. Small Business Technology Development Center has honored former Rural Center employee Tony Johnson, in recognition of his work in leading the Rural Center’s business-lending efforts.

 

Tony JohnsonJohnson, who oversaw the Small Business Credit Initiative, was acknowledged in the SBTDC’s annual report. Made possible by $46.1 million in federal funding, the initiative has three components: the N.C. Capital Access Program, the N.C. Loan Participation Program and the N.C. Fund of Funds Program.

 

Working primarily through traditional lenders, the initiative reduces risk to allow lenders to approve certain business loans they otherwise could not. On behalf of North Carolina, the Rural Center manages the program in all 100 counties.

Johnson, who has become the executive director of millennial initiatives, regional networks and economic development at Western Carolina University, led the initiative in becoming the first in the country to be funded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. At the end of the fiscal year, the initiative was ranked second in the country in terms of financing provided and percent of capital deployed. Through the initiative, $460 million in debt and equity financing is expected to be made available to North Carolina’s small businesses.

 

With Johnson's departure, the Rural Center's Tom Wall has been promoted to director of the initiative. For more information on the Rural Center's business finance programs, please visit the N.C. Small Business Credit Initiative or call 919-250-4314.

Robeson County welcomes sweet potato processor

Robeson County welcomes sweet potato processor

 

A new $12 million sweet potato processing plant is on its way to Robeson County, bringing with it more than 100 jobs and a high-tech process to monetize one of the state's most important crops.

Trinity Frozen Foods will build its plant in the Carolina Commerce Technology Park in Pembroke, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday. The announcement came after fierce competition with a rival site in South Carolina.

Read more ...

Ventures client earns trip to New Orleans

Ventures client earns trip to New Orleans

 

It didn't take very long for Ashley Thomspon's entrepreneurship career to begin paying dividends.

Thompson, 26, started Smash Creative in Sanford about a year ago with assistance from the Rural Center's New Generation Ventures program. She already has enough web design and marketing work that she is thinking about hiring folks to help her. And in April she will be attending the GrowCo business conference in New Orleans, courtesy of Inc. Magazine.

Ashley ThompsonThompson was chosen to attend as part of the magazine's Military Entrepreneur program. Thompson's husband is a member of the U.S. Army and is stationed at Fort. Bragg, which made her eligible to apply. In addition to winning admission to the three-day event, which features a keynote address from business magnate Richard Branson, the magazine will pair her with a mentor to help develop her business over the next year. Her admission is no small prize - conference tickets are $895.

Thompson has built her business with the help of the Rural Center's New Generation Ventures program, which provides young rural entrepreneurs with coaching, training and networking. Through New Generation Ventures, Thompson has been able to take a number of online classes free of charge, which have helped to improve her design and bookkeeping skills. In addition, she has regular consultations with Amanda Sorrells, a start-up business counselor with the Rural Center.

Thompson said the counseling helped her navigate the red tape of setting up a business in North Carolina, after she arrived here from Wisconsin. Since then, Smash Creative has grown tremendously.

"My design has slowed down because my business has picked up," she said, noting that more clients mean more meetings. "Now I'm looking to hire and expand."

Rural policy update: Where we stand in Raleigh, Washington, D.C.

patrickwoodieBy Patrick Woodie
President
Connect with Patrick on Twitter @patrickwoodie
 
 The Rural Center is dedicated to keeping you up-to-date as policy is debated in Raleigh and Washington, D.C. See below to download our
rural-focused, bill-tracking summaries.   
 

N.C. General Assembly

The immoveable iceberg of state budget negotiations appears to be thawing. State Senate leadership is proposing a budget cap of $21.65 billion, a little more than the Senate initially proposed, but still less than the House wanted.  

In exchange, the Senate is willing to remove Medicaid reform and econcomic development policy from the budget — two of the most significant budget policy differences between the House and the Senate.

Click here for our analysis of the major rural economic development items in the state budget, as well as the major differences between the two houses.    

U.S. Congress

With the U. S. House and Senate out of town for its summer recess, some action has been made, at least at the committee level, on all 12 of the FY2016 federal appropriations bills.  

There is already talk of a contuing resolution to fund the government beyond the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30. The House and the Senate will return to Washington, D.C., after Labor Day and are expected to be in session until mid-December.

 Click here for an up-to-date summary on the rural economic development program funding levels we are tracking in the multiple appropriations bills.

  

Rural Center welcomes hundreds to advocacy meetings


By Matt Ehlersehlers2
Director of Communications

 

Thanks to the help of more than 300 people from across the state who attended our meetings this summer in Williamston, Franklin, Lenoir, Clinton, Henderson and Troy, the Rural Center is armed with a wealth of information with which to build a rural advocacy agenda for North Carolina. jason lenoir

Among the topics that bubbled to the surface: the need for rural infrastructure improvements, the migration of young people to metro areas, and the debate over a proposal in the legislature to change the formula for distributing sales tax revenue. 

Center staff are in the process of combing through the comments, criticisms and suggestions that were presented to us. Over the next few months, we will be combining that information with the latest rural data and research in order to draft a rural policy agenda to present this winter to the N.C. Rural Center Board of Directors. We plan to publicly roll out our agenda prior to the 2016 session of the N.C. General Assembly. 

If you were unable to attend the meetings, please see this presentation, which was delivered by Jason Gray, the Rural Center's senior fellow for policy and research. We have also been distributing this short survey via social media; we'd appreciate your input. If you have any additional questions or comments, please write mehlers@ncruralcenter.org.

Eastern N.C. towns: Host a disaster resiliency workshop

chilton webBy Chilton Rogers
Director of Community Engagement

 

The Rural Center is seeking three towns in Eastern North Carolina that have flood and disaster mitigation experience to host a resiliency training workshop.

hurricane isabelEach town will host a daylong training seminar with support from the Rural Center. 

Selected towns will receive a $5,000 award/stipend for hosting the training. The objectives are to give local community and business leaders the training and tools they need to increase their disaster resiliency, and to ensure more successful post‐disaster economic recoveries in Eastern North Carolina.

Only communities/small towns with a population of fewer than 7,500 people within the specified 39-county geographic area are eligible to apply. The deadline to apply is Aug. 31, 2015.

Download the Request for Proposals for more information and explanation of requirements. The three towns will be selected through a competitive process. If you have any questions, please write crogers@ncruralcenter.org. 

State budget negotiations: The rural perspective

patrickwoodie

By Patrick Woodie
President
Connect with Patrick on Twitter @patrickwoodie

 

The N.C. General Assembly last week approved a temporary budget that keeps state government operating through August 14. Now the real negotiations begin between the House and the Senate.

The number and breadth of the policy changes contained in the Senate budget are difficult to summarize concisely and will likely lead to lengthy budget negotiations. 

With that said, on appropriation items of signifigant interest to rural, here is how the two chambers stack up:

Community Development Tools

House

  • Division of Water Infrastructure (DENR) - $11.27 million in FY ’16 and $12.7 million in FY ’17 for water and wastewater infrastructure grants for “rural, economically distressed areas,” plus $9.7 million for state matching funds to draw down federal water and wastewater revolving loan funds.  Of the FY ’16 money, there is $10 million from non-recurring funds for infrastructure grants, of which $5 million is limited to Tier 1 and $5 million for Tier 2, but the Tier 2 funds are earmarked. Additional provisions change the priority system for these non-federal loans and grants.

Senate

  • Only appropriates the state matching funds for the wastewater revolving loan funds ($5,300,000 over the biennium)

 House

  • The Rural Economic Development Division in Commerce will get $9.6 million in FY ‘16 and $10.9 million in FY ‘17.  It appears from the special provisions that this money is to fund a new grant program "Underserved & Limited Resource Communities/Economic Development Grants."  (Commerce is to develop the criteria for these grants.)

Senate

  • Eliminates $2.5 million for the “Underserved & Limited Resource Communities” and provides $4,410,000 per year in non-recurring funds to expand the existing grant programs (less $390,000/year in recurring funding – a net of $4,020,000/year).

In agreement – Community Development Block Grant

  • Subject to federal funds availability, Commerce will receive $15.7 million to make economic development grants and DENR will receive $26.7 million for infrastructure grants, each year, from Community Development Block Grant funds.  This amount is consistent in both the House and the Senate versions.

In agreement – DOT will receive $2 million/year for its Rural (public transportation) Capital Grant Program.  This amount is consistent in both the House and the Senate versions.

 

House

  • Clean Water Management Trust Fund will be separated from the Natural Heritage Program and would receive $14 million in new funds - $50 million in availability for the biennium (including $4 million that only can be spent on military buffers). 

Senate

  • Provides $17,140,907 in new funds – bringing total support to $46.7 million over the biennium.  That total includes $2 million that only can be spent on military buffers, $2.25 million for administrative expenses (restricting the use of other funds for that purpose), and a provision that earmarks $4.5 million for “strategies to mitigate water quality impairment.”

House

  • Commerce’s Main Street Solutions Fund is slated to receive $1 million in FY’16 from non-recurring dollars to provide matching grants to local governments to revitalize downtowns.

Senate

  • Provides $2 million in FY ’16, but $1 million of that amount is earmarked for a specific (but un-named) town.

House

  • The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund is to receive an additional $12.5 million (non-recurring) in FY’16 and $1.48 million (recurring) in FY ’17 to bring the funds available to $42.5 million for the biennium.

Senate

  • Provides $5.16 million over the biennium to bring the total available to $31.9 million.

 

House Budget Only

  • Money is set aside to finance several pending House bills, including $1 million for the Healthy Food, Small Retailer Corner Store Act.

 

  • The Support Center is to be allocated $2.5 million/year from non-recurring funds. 

 

  • Budget provisions create a pilot program to assist community colleges in establishing new programs for workforce development.  The pilot program is limited to Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties and will be financed by $2 million/year from non-recurring money.

 

  • The Tobacco Trust Fund Program is to receive $1.559 million from non-recurring money to increase the program to $2.5 million in FY ’16 and $3 million in FY’17.

 

Business Assistance Tools

House

  • The One NC Small Business Fund is to receive $5 million each year of the biennium. 

Senate

  • Provides $3 million each year of the biennium.

 

In agreement – JDIG numbers

  • The appropriation for JDIG is $57,816,215 in FY ’16 and $71,728,126 in FY ’17.  (These numbers represent a decrease of $5,229,142 in FY ’16 and an increase of $8,682,769 in FY ’17.)  These numbers are the same in both the House and the Senate versions of the budget; however, there are significant policy differences between the two versions.

 

In agreement – One NC Fund numbers

  • The appropriation for One NC is $6,995,976 in FY ’16 and $9,000,000 in FY ’17. (The amount for FY ’16 represents a decrease of $2,004,024.)  These numbers are the same in both House and Senate versions of the budget; however, there are policy differences between the two versions.

 

House

  • NC Biotechnology Center would receive a $5 million/year increase from recurring funds, bringing the total available to $13.6 million.

Senate

  • Would eliminate funding for the Biotechnology Center.

House

  • The Film Grant Fund is to get an additional $40 million in FY ’16 from fund balances and $40 million in FY’17.

Senate

  • Would appropriate $10 million/year from non-recurring funds for each year of the biennium.

House

  • The budget targets $1.85 million to aid shellfish and oyster rehabilitation and research.

Senate

  • Would provide $2.05 million.  (The key difference is in the amount appropriated for research and development related to oysters.)

House

  • The House adds $1 million in FY’16 and $2 million in FY ’17 for Commerce to use in marketing and branding the state for travel and business development.

Senate

  • Eliminates $1.5 million per year for marketing and branding.

 

House Budget Only

  • Commerce will receive funding to establish two competitive grant programs:  1) Rallying Investors & Skilled Entrepreneurs for NC (RISE NC) is to focus on increasing start-up companies, especially those that are high-tech ($2.5 million/year for each year of the biennium). 2) A University Innovation Commercialization Grant Program is to aid in commercializing research from universities and non-profits ($2.5 million in FY ’16 and $5 million in FY’17).

 

  • The NC Venture Muliplier Fund will tap resources in the Escheats Fund (about $40 million) to fund innovations and inventors that have potential commercial value.

 

Senate Budget Only

  • The Senate would appropriate $13,000,000 for the Site Infrastructure Development Fund (in Commerce) in FY ’16.

 

Other provisions

House

  • The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund is slated to receive $2.5 million from recurring funds in FY ’17 and $91, 624 from recurring funds in both years of the biennium.

Senate

  • Reduces the FY ’16 appropriations by $500,000 and substitutes funding from the TVA Settlement, providing a total available of $2.6 million.

House

  • Provides $20 million from non-recurring funds for each year of the biennium to the Housing Finance Agency to assist with the development of low-income housing units, statewide.

Senate

  • Uses a portion of the Standard and Poors Settlement to support the program with $10 million in FY’ 16 and $9.3 million in FY ’17.  In addition, the Senate would appropriate $700,000 from non-recurring money in FY ’17 to send $10 million/year to the Housing Finance Agency for the program.

 

In agreement – Rural Health Loan Repayment

  • Special provisions will permit DHHS to expand the Rural Health Loan Repayment programs to use state incentives for general surgeons practicing in Critical Access Hospitals and to offer loan repayment program funds for providers using telemedicine to serve rural and underserved areas.  Both House and Senate versions of the budget will permit this change.

 

In agreement – Eliminate apprenticeship fees

  • The budget eliminates the apprenticeship fees.  This provision is included in both the House and the Senate versions of the budget.

 

In agreement – ECU Medical School and matching dollars

  • Additional funding and/or authority is provided to specific rural areas and facilities (such as $8 million/year to provide sustainability for the ECU medical school, and dollars for specific counties to provide federal grant matching money).  These provisions are in both House and Senate versions of the budget.

 

House Budget Only

  • A school connectivity initiative is to bring broadband connectivity to all K-12 public school buildings (a school-level internal Wi-Fi network).  The budget adds $12 million/year to expand the funds available ($60 million in E-rate funds, plus $7.9 million in state base budget funds).

 

Of potential interest

New departments and major changes

Governor proposed a new department of Military and Veterans Affairs and a new department of Information Technology.  Also proposed was the transfer of state attractions (parks, aquariums, state zoo, etc.) to the Department of Cultural Resources.

  • Both House and Senate budgets create a new Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
  • The Senate budget creates a new Department of Information Technology.  The House budget consolidates information technology functions under the current Information Technology Services Office/State Chief Information Officer.
  • The Senate budget creates a new Department of Natural and Cultural Resources that will include programs and personnel transferred from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (parks, state trails, aquariums, the Zoo, the Museum of Natural Sciences (the one with the globe in front),   (Also adds the Museum of Forestry [renamed Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville] as a satellite of the Museum of Natural Sciences.) 
  • In the Senate budget, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources becomes the Department of Environmental Quality
  • The Senate also directs the two re-named departments are to study the possibility of also transferring the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuary Partnership, Coastal Reserves Program, Office of Land and Water Stewardship, Environmental Education and Public Affairs, Marine Fisheries, and the Wildlife Resources Commission.
  • The House budget directs the Departments of Cultural Resources and Environment and Natural Resources to develop a plan by 2/1/16 to consider the transfer of the Museum of Natural Science, the Zoo, the aquariums, state parks the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Services, and Environmental Education.  The plan also is to address operations and maintenance of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Pigeon River Fund, the Natural Heritage Program, the Coastal Reserve Program, and the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership.

 Tax policy changes

  • The House budget raises fees, including DMV fees for renewal of drivers licenses and inspections, but decreases the gas tax.  The House budget also extends the renewable energy tax credit, creates a new historic preservation tax credit, re-establishes a tax deduction for medical expenses, extends the sales tax preference for motor sports, incorporates the provisions for tax exemption for datacenters (S 42), and exempts service contracts for aircraft and agricultural fair admissions from sales taxes.
  • The Senate budget incorporates the Senate’s tax proposals, including changes to the corporate tax and income tax, the application of sales tax, and the distribution of sales tax revenues to local governments.  The Senate authorizes a new local government option for the sales tax.

 

 

Leadership institute graduates its 25th class

mistyBy Misty Herget
Director of Leadership

 

 
In June, 33 dynamic rural leaders and guests filled the auditorium at the N.C. General Assembly to celebrate the completion of the 25th Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI).
 

The day began with opening remarks from Patrick Woodie, President of the N.C. Rural Center. REDI alumna Jennifer Gregory of Vance County, and Jim Rose of Yadkin Bank and the N.C. Rural Center Board of Directors, also delivered inspirational remarks. At the conclusion of the ceremony, graduates congregated with guests faculty and staff to share congratulations and gratitude for their experience.

To earn their certificate, participants attended nine days of training spread over three months. They studied and applied economic and community development strategies, honed leadership and team-building skills, discovered resources available to their communities, and joined a network of rural leaders to share information and experiences.

The Institute was comprised of elected officials, local and state government professionals, civic and grassroots leaders, and business leaders. Beyond REDI, the learning and networking continue among peers and other leaders across the state through alumni gatherings and continuing education opportunities.

The graduates are now part of an alumni network of over 1,000 across the state that live in or serve rural N.C. It’s critical to maintain and nurture the connections and continuous learning opportunities among rural leaders so they have the resources and tools necessary to continuously improve their communities and make them the best places to live, work and play in the state.

Graduates have:

• Revitalized community pride and built cohesion.

• Launched projects in job creation and training, visioning and planning, housing, healthcare and job-skills training.

• Organized local leadership programs.

• Been appointed or elected to public office, boards and advisory committees.

The Institute has had a profound impact on the lives of many rural North Carolinians. Not only has the class been a transformational experience for individuals, but it has empowered leaders to influence positive change and transformation in their communities and regions.

REDI continues each year to see a large and highly competitive applicant pool of local elected officials, local, state and federal government staff, nonprofit and faith community leaders, and small business owners. Applications and information for REDI 2016 will be available on our website in September.

Please don’t hesitate to write Misty Herget or call 919-250-4314 for more information.

REDI Class of 2015:

REDI 2015 graduation photo

Christina Alphin (Stanly County), Wanda Bennett (Carteret County), Michael Brandt (Rockingham County), Lisa Brisson (Robeson County), Beth Bucksot (Pamlico County), Angie Chandler (Buncombe County), Catesby Denison (Caswell County), Sally Elliott (Stokes County), Charlotte Fitz Daniels (Pitt County), Jeff Foster (Wilkes County), Kate Gavenus (Avery/Watauga counties), Kevin Hardison (Wake County), Karen Harshman (Burke County), Eve Hemby (Beaufort County), Tiffany Henry (Jackson County), Anita Hicks (Vance County), Sarah Johnson (Hyde County), Amy Joslin (Pitt County), Matthew Livingston (Duplin/Pender counties), Todd Lyden (Bladen County), Elma Patterson (Robeson County), Christina Piard (Wake County), Andre Rowe (Northampton County), Jonathan Russell (Wilson County), Kervin Spivey (Bertie County), Keith L. Spivey (Wayne County), Sarah Thompson (Jackson County), Edward Waltz (Jones County), Morris White (Vance County), Weyling White (Hertford County), Janice Wilkinson (Rockingham County), Holly Yanker (Wake County), John York (Randolph County)




Rural Highlights of the House budget: The N.C. General Assembly at halftime

patrickwoodieBy Patrick Woodie
President
Connect with Patrick on Twitter @patrickwoodie
 
 

Those of you who follow the biennial budget process are familiar with the progression: the governor proposes a budget and then the N.C. House (because it was its turn to start the process this year) passes a budget. Next, the N.C. Senate takes its turn and passes its own budget, and finally, the differences in the House and Senate versions are resolved in conference committee.

Then, a final budget passes and makes its way to the governor's desk. The governor can sign it, veto it (in which case three-fifths of the members present in each chamber must vote to override — and if they don't, they go back to the drawing board), or the governor can let it become law without his signature.

Well, the House has finished its work and we've officially arrived at halftime in the current session of the N.C. General Assembly. Here are the rural highlights of the state budget passed by a bipartisan majority in the N.C. House of Representatives:

Community development tools

• Division of Water Infrastructure (N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources) — Appropriated $11.27 million in fiscal year ’16 and $12.7 million in FY ’17 for water and wastewater infrastructure grants for “rural, economically distressed areas,” plus $9.7 million for state matching funds to draw down federal water and wastewater revolving loan funds. Of the FY ’16 money, there is $10 million from non-recurring funds for infrastructure grants, of which $5 million is limited to Tier 1 counties and $5 million for Tier 2 counties, but the Tier 2 funds are earmarked. Additional provisions change the priority system for these non-federal loans and grants.

• The Rural Economic Development Division in the N.C. Department of Commerce will receive $9.6 million in FY ‘16 and $10.9 million in FY ‘17. It appears from the special provisions that this money is to fund a new grant program, "Underserved & Limited Resource Communities/Economic Development Grants." (Commerce is to develop the criteria for these grants).

• Subject to federal funds availability, Commerce will receive $15.7 million to make economic development grants and DENR will receive $26.7 million for infrastructure grants, each year, from Community Development Block Grant funds.

• Clean Water Management Trust Fund will be separated from the Natural Heritage Program and would receive $14 million in new funds — $50 million in availability for the biennium (including $4 million that only can be spent on military buffers).

• Commerce’s Main Street Solutions Fund is slated to receive $1 million in FY ’16 from non-recurring dollars to provide matching grants to local governments to revitalize downtowns.

• The Parks and Recreation Trust Fund is to receive an additional $12.5 million in FY ’16, to bring the funds available to $42.5 million for the biennium.

• Money is set aside to finance several pending House bills, including $1 million for the Healthy Food, Small Retailer Corner Store Act.

• The Support Center is to be allocated $2.5 million/year from non-recurring funds.

• N.C. DOT will get $2 million/year for its Rural (public transportation) Capital Grant Program.

• Budget provisions create a pilot program to assist community colleges in establishing new programs for workforce development. The pilot program is limited to Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties and will be financed by $2 million each year from non-recurring money.

• The Tobacco Trust Fund Program is to receive $1.559 million from non-recurring money to increase the program to $2.5 million in FY ’16 and $3 million in FY ’17.

 

Business assistance tools

• The One N.C. Small Business Fund is to receive $5 million each year of the biennium.

• Commerce will receive funding to establish two competitive grant programs: 1) Rallying Investors & Skilled Entrepreneurs for N.C. (RISE NC) is to focus on increasing start-up companies, especially those that are high-tech ($2.5 million/year for each year of the biennium). 2) A University Innovation Commercialization Grant Program is to aid in commercializing research from universities and nonprofits ($2.5 million in FY ’16 and $5 million in FY ’17).

• The N.C. Venture Muliplier Fund will tap resources in the Escheats Fund (about $40 million) to fund innovations and inventors that have potential commercial value.

• The budget targets $1.85 million to aid shellfish and oyster rehabilitation and research.

• The Film Grant Fund is to get an additional $40 million in FY ’16 from fund balances and $40 million in FY ’17.

• The Jobs Development Investment Grant program will receive $57.8 million in FY ’16 and $71.7 million in FY ’17, while the One N.C. Fund has $6.9 million available for FY ’16 and $9 million in FY ’17.

 

Other provisions

• The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund is slated to receive $2.5 million in FY ’17.

• A school connectivity initiative is to bring broadband connectivity to all K-12 public school buildings (a school-level internal Wi-Fi network). The budget adds $12 million each year to expand the funds available ($60 million in E-rate funds, plus $7.9 million in state base budget funds).

• Special provisions will permit the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to expand the Rural Health Loan Repayment programs to use state incentives for general surgeons practicing in Critical Access Hospitals, and to offer loan repayment program funds for providers using telemedicine to serve rural and underserved areas.

• The budget eliminates apprenticeship fees.

• Additional funding and/or authority is provided to specific rural areas and facilities (such as $8 million per year to provide sustainability for the East Carolina University medical school, and dollars for specific counties to provide federal grant matching money).

 
Stay tuned for the second half.

Register now for our 2015 advocacy agenda roundtables

 Click map to enlarge.

Advocacy meetings map

This summer, we will be traveling across North Carolina to gather your input as we craft a rural advocacy agenda to benefit the entire state. Please make plans to join us for these free roundtable discussions.

To register, click on the meeting you'd like to attend. Each session includes lunch.

  • July 21        Williamston
  • July 28        Franklin 
  • July 29        Lenoir 
  • August 4     Clinton 
  • August 6     Henderson
  • August 11    Troy (to register, please write to mehlers@ncruralcenter.org)

Capturing the diversity of N.C.: Refining county classifications

jasongrayBy Jason Gray
Senior Fellow, Research and Policy

 

The Rural Center has long classified a rural county as having an average population density below 250 people per square mile. It is a simple, effective definition the center will continue to use. North Carolina, however, is no longer just a rural or urban state. We are refining the overall county classification to better reflect this reality.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, five rural counties crossed the threshold of 250 people per square mile: Pitt, Union, Iredell, Lincoln and Henderson. The Rural Center then classified these counties as “transitional rural” counties, to reflect their retained rural characteristics, even as they suburbanized.

Each of the five transitional counties continues to suburbanize, based on a staff review of 2014 Census Bureau population estimates. To better reflect North Carolina’s demographic diversity, staff made two recommendations to the Rural Center Board of Directors that were adopted on May 27. The first recommendation moved the transitional rural counties out of rural. The second recommendation created a new classification of regional cities and suburban counties. Click to see the new rural county map.

Moving forward, the center will track and analyze data in three classifications:

Rural counties — 80 counties with population densities below 250 people per square mile. These counties are home to a little over 4 million people and 41 percent of the state population. The center’s definition of a rural county remains unchanged.

Regional cities or suburban counties — 14 counties with average population densities between 250 and 750 people per square mile. This accounts for 2.4 million people, or 25 percent of the state population. The five formerly transitional rural counties join this classification.

Urban counties — Six counties with population densities between 750 and 1,933 people per square mile. This classification includes 3.3 million people and is 34 percent of the total state population.

We welcome your questions and comments on this updated classification. We believe it will enable sharper data analysis to support effective advocacy and rural development strategies.

 

 

 

Rural economic development requires balanced approach

image

By Patrick Woodie
President
Connect with Patrick Woodie on Twitter @patrickwoodie

Current debate within the halls of the N.C. General Assembly and on the editorial pages of papers throughout the state is once again centering on what to do about the obvious disparities that exist between the urban and rural areas of this great state. Rural North Carolina welcomes this conversation. When it comes to statewide economic development policy, the economic reality demands immediate action.
 
The numbers tell the story:
 
   Between October 2010 and October 2014, 82 percent of the increase in the number of employed North Carolinians has taken place in 17 counties — and Wake    and Mecklenburg alone lay claim to nearly half of it. 
   Rural North Carolina has lost more than 150,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 15 years – a 40% decline to local economies that were already far less diversified than their urban counterparts.
   Not a single urban county lost population between 2010 and 2013. In that same time frame, 49 of the 85 rural counties did – up from seven between 2000 and 2010.
 
Anyone who has spent time working in economic development knows it is a team sport.  Therefore addressing these rural issues head-on requires a strong partnership between the state and rural areas so that rural North Carolina can access the tools it needs to invest in itself. The current legislative debate provides an excellent opportunity for crafting reasonable and effective policy solutions to help shape this partnership. 
 
While the challenges we face are real, rural North Carolina is not a problem to be solved, but a tremendous state asset and a vital team player. Reasonable, equitable adjustment to economic incentive programs and a broader, stable long-term strategy to support our homegrown businesses and entrepreneurs will result in one North Carolina that is healthy and vibrant from the mountains to the sea.  
 
 

Rural Center receives $250,000 grant to boost small-business capacity

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By Matt Ehlers
Director of Communications

USDA Rural Development has awarded a $250,000 grant to the N.C. Rural Center as part of the federal Rural Community Development Initiative. The initiative supports rural housing, community facilities and economic development projects.

With the funding, the Rural Center will boost small-business capacity in eight North Carolina communities: Elizabethtown, Elkin, Lansing, Marion, Plymouth, Scotland Neck, Siler City and Star. Each of these communities participated in the Rural Center's N.C. Small Towns Economic Prosperity program (NC STEP). This new initiative will build upon the work of NC STEP by providing a program that includes community coaching, technical assistance and leadership training for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The goal of this project will be to build the capacity of these eight communities to support and nurture small businesses and entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs and small businesses will in turn invest in their communities by starting or expanding businesses, creating new jobs and contributing to the overall quality of life in their small towns.

To accomplish these goals, the Rural Center will partner with the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship. A national nonprofit, CRE will assist with the training and serve as an advisor to the Rural Center community coaches.

The program is on track to launch this summer.

Thriving rural communities demand strong leaders


Misty Herget - NC Rural Center
By Misty Herget-
Director of Leadership, N.C. Rural Center

 

Who will lead us in the future?

Of all the concerns we hear from rural communities, this is one of the most pressing. Many of North Carolina's small towns are led by tight-knit groups of longtime citizens, and there are fewer and fewer young people to transition into these leadership roles.

During the past two decades, 54 percent of North Carolina's rural counties experienced a decline in their population of young adults, ages 24 to 30. Of these counties, 16 lost more than 20 percent of their young adults.

This leaves fewer rural young people to run for public office, to take over family businesses and farms, and replenish the local workforce.

North Carolina not long ago was considered a predominantly rural state, but the 2010 census showed a clear and continuing shift toward urban. Over the past twenty years, urban areas gained population at a 20 percent higher rate than rural areas.

One major implication of this shift is the dimming of the rural perspective within the N.C. General Assembly. Lawmakers are developing more urban-centric policies. Rural can still have a very impactful and meaningful voice, but there must be strong, knowledgeable and skilled leaders in place to make that happen. 

For 25 years, the Rural Center has recognized the need to develop strong local leadership and help communities build their local leadership capacity.

The Rural Economic Development Institute was designed to teach a comprehensive approach to economic and community development and to develop an individual’s leadership and team-building skills. Since the first REDI class, more than 1,000 leaders have graduated from the program, but the learning doesn't stop there. Graduates join an alumni network and continue to learn from their peers, while fostering strong relationships with other leaders from across the state. 

REDI continues each year to see a large and highly competitive applicant pool of local elected officials, local, state and federal government staff, nonprofit and faith community leaders, and small business owners. This month, I was privileged to be a part of the committee that chose the participants for the 2015 REDI class, which features 35 rural leaders from across the state. In my least favorite part of the job, we also had to turn nearly that many away.

I’m encouraged and hopeful to see such a high demand for the program. It shows a great desire on the part of community leaders who want to continue to develop their skills, share best practices and build their networks.

Because we all share the same goal: to make their communities the best possible places to live, work and play. 

Crowdfunding spurs entrepreneurship and creates jobs

Barry Ryan - NC Rural Center
By Barry Ryan -
Senior Director of Programs, N.C. Rural Center


The N.C. General Assembly is considering legislation (H.B. 14, H.B. 63, S.B. 35 and S.B. 481) that would create an intrastate crowdfunding exemption. Such legislation would enable private companies to raise funds from the public, in exchange for an ownership stake in the business.

The N.C. Providing Access to Capital to Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses (NC PACES) Act (S.B. 481) would allow businesses to raise up to $2 million from individuals who could invest up to $2,000 each. The Rural Center views this proposal as a tool to help early-stage companies access capital to foster innovation and job growth across rural North Carolina.

Facts about the crowdfunding legislation:

  • The bills encourage investment, but they also contain safeguards such as disclosure policies and investment caps to protect against fraud and limit risk.
  • The concept has received support from Gov. Pat McCrory, the N.C. Department of Commerce, the N.C. Chamber, and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development.
  • Fourteen states already have intrastate crowdfunding programs, including Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.
  • The U.S. and Securities and Exchange Commission has released its new crowdfunding rules, but its structure is prohibitive for companies raising less than $10 million. The proposed state legislation favors small businesses and adds flexibility to make crowdfunding an accessible tool for more N.C. companies.

The Rural Center considers entrepreneurship a critical component of a successful economic development strategy, and we operate several programs designed to help small businesses access the capital they need to grow and thrive. Since 2011, the center has made over 500 loans and investments that have leveraged $300 million in private funding and supported 9,200 jobs. Recognizing the needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs, the Rural Center supports the crowdfunding proposal as another tool for raising capital to enable business growth and job creation.

 

soda-jerks



Rural Center client
Waynesville Soda Jerks used Kickstarter to raise funds by offering rewards and perks to their supporters. The new legislation would allow companies to raise funds in exchange for an ownership stake in the business.

A growing entrepreneurial force: military women

Amanda Sorrells - NC Rural center
By Amanda Sorrells -
 Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship, N.C. Rural Center

 

North Carolina boasts the fourth largest military presence in the country, which means that tens of thousands of our nation's most ambitious, driven and dedicated workers call Carolina home. They are a diverse group with wide-ranging skills that translate exceptionally well to the civilian workforce.

While men traditionally have dominated their ranks, more and more women have joined them in recent years. And within that group, a subset will carve out their own special path when they leave the military. They will become entrepreneurs.

The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics predicts that the number of female veterans will increase 14 percent during the next twenty years. The skills they learn in the military — discipline, adaptability and leadership — are exactly the attributes required for running a small business.

This spring, the Rural Center partnered with a number of business-service providers to promote and celebrate entrepreneurship among military women. A New Mission: Military Women as Entrepreneurs was designed to showcase small business resources available throughout the state. More than 120 female veterans, active-duty service members and military spouses participated in the event at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.

I heard from women who operated a wide variety of businesses, from restaurants and management-consulting firms to dog-training and web-design companies. I left inspired by their accomplishments and rededicated to helping them surpass their goals.

As part of its mission, the Rural Center works with entrepreneurs to formulate business plans, improve their access to capital and accelerate their chances of success. But my work is only one component in a much wider network of available services. In Jacksonville, seasoned and rookie entrepreneurs were also able to meet with a number of other organizations, including Coastal Carolina Community College, the Jacksonville — Onslow Chamber of Commerce, the Women's Business Center and the N.C. Military Business Center.

Small businesses are integral to the growth of North Carolina's economy. Together, we are working to help them succeed.

 

2014 N.C. Rural Assembly review

RuralCenter-Forum-Logo Horz

 


If you were there, we hope you found the 2014 N.C. Rural Assembly to be informative and inspiring. If you missed this sold out gathering of more than 400 rural leaders from across the state, we're here to help. This page is designed to be a one-stop shop for everything related to the 2014 N.C. Rural Assembly. Click to view PDFs of each item.

Here you will find an agenda of the day's activities, along with the presentations and materials that were provided to attendees. We will add links to videos of Assembly activities very soon.

Comments or suggestions about this year's event? Please drop us a line.

 

The Rural Center's New Strategic Vision

 

Agenda

 

About the Speakers

 

Morning Presentations

Watch the video

 

The Changing Face of Rural North Carolina

Dr. Rebecca Tippett, Director of Carolina Demography

Carolina Population Center, UNC-Chapel Hill

 

North Carolina's Unequal Recovery

Dr. James Kleckley, Director of the Bureau of Business Research

College of Business, East Carolina University

 

The Workforce Challenge

John Quinterno, Founder and Principal

South by North Strategies, Ltd.

 

Reaction From the Boots on the Ground

Watch the video

Moderated by Tom Campbell of "NC Spin"

 

 

Keynote Address

Watch the video

Hope and Opportunity in Rural America

Darrin L. Williams, CEO of Southern Bancorp, Inc.

 

 

The Rural Center: Moving Forward

Patrick Woodie, Rural Center President

 

Rural Award Winners

 

Community Banks of the Year

 

Rural Center Milestones 1987-2014

 

 

 

Rural Center embarks on six-month process to craft new strategic plan

Rural Center embarks on six-month process to craft new strategic plan

For immediate release

Contact: Matt Ehlers, mehlers@ncruralcenter.org or 919-250-4314

 

Building upon its long history of support and advocacy for rural people and places, the N.C. Rural Center Board of Directors has embarked upon a new strategic visioning process.

The Rural Center will employ an in-depth, highly participatory approach, and reach out to thousands of people across North Carolina. Their feedback and ideas for the future of the center and rural North Carolina as a whole will help to shape this endeavor. In addition to a survey that is being distributed throughout the state, the center will conduct personal interviews and convene a series of public meetings to capture the views of rural North Carolina's diverse constituency.

"This will be an exhaustive undertaking," said Patrick Woodie, acting president of the Rural Center. "But it is critically important for the future of the Rural Center and rural North Carolina that we assess the needs so that we can build a framework to address them, and develop programs that create economic development opportunities in the areas of the state that need them the most."

The Rural Center Board of Directors and staff will work with Durham-based MDC to assemble this new vision. MDC will help hone the center's structure and mission, including speaking to current and potential partners of the center.

In its work, MDC can rely on nearly five decades' worth of experience in helping organizations tackle complex issues. It has extensive expertise in crafting innovative rural development strategies, including successful projects in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi. The histories of the Rural Center and MDC even intertwine: an MDC policy paper helped to inform the plan that led to the creation of the Rural Center in 1987.

After many hundreds of hours of work, the Rural Center's new strategic vision will be unveiled at the center's annual conference in October.

"This is an extraordinarily exciting time for the Rural Center," Woodie said. "More than 27 years after the center began, we have an opportunity to re-imagine our responsibilities and refocus our energies. Our approach may shift, but our purpose will not: to create economic opportunities in rural North Carolina."


SBTDC names Tony Johnson a “North Carolina Champion”

SBTDC names Tony Johnson a “North Carolina Champion”

The N.C. Small Business Technology Development Center has honored former Rural Center employee Tony Johnson, in recognition of his work in leading the Rural Center’s business-lending efforts.

 

Tony JohnsonJohnson, who oversaw the Small Business Credit Initiative, was acknowledged in the SBTDC’s annual report. Made possible by $46.1 million in federal funding, the initiative has three components: the N.C. Capital Access Program, the N.C. Loan Participation Program and the N.C. Fund of Funds Program.

 

Working primarily through traditional lenders, the initiative reduces risk to allow lenders to approve certain business loans they otherwise could not. On behalf of North Carolina, the Rural Center manages the program in all 100 counties.

Johnson, who has become the executive director of millennial initiatives, regional networks and economic development at Western Carolina University, led the initiative in becoming the first in the country to be funded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. At the end of the fiscal year, the initiative was ranked second in the country in terms of financing provided and percent of capital deployed. Through the initiative, $460 million in debt and equity financing is expected to be made available to North Carolina’s small businesses.

 

With Johnson's departure, the Rural Center's Tom Wall has been promoted to director of the initiative. For more information on the Rural Center's business finance programs, please visit the N.C. Small Business Credit Initiative or call 919-250-4314.

Robeson County welcomes sweet potato processor

Robeson County welcomes sweet potato processor

 

A new $12 million sweet potato processing plant is on its way to Robeson County, bringing with it more than 100 jobs and a high-tech process to monetize one of the state's most important crops.

Trinity Frozen Foods will build its plant in the Carolina Commerce Technology Park in Pembroke, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday. The announcement came after fierce competition with a rival site in South Carolina.

Read more ...

Ventures client earns trip to New Orleans

Ventures client earns trip to New Orleans

 

It didn't take very long for Ashley Thomspon's entrepreneurship career to begin paying dividends.

Thompson, 26, started Smash Creative in Sanford about a year ago with assistance from the Rural Center's New Generation Ventures program. She already has enough web design and marketing work that she is thinking about hiring folks to help her. And in April she will be attending the GrowCo business conference in New Orleans, courtesy of Inc. Magazine.

Ashley ThompsonThompson was chosen to attend as part of the magazine's Military Entrepreneur program. Thompson's husband is a member of the U.S. Army and is stationed at Fort. Bragg, which made her eligible to apply. In addition to winning admission to the three-day event, which features a keynote address from business magnate Richard Branson, the magazine will pair her with a mentor to help develop her business over the next year. Her admission is no small prize - conference tickets are $895.

Thompson has built her business with the help of the Rural Center's New Generation Ventures program, which provides young rural entrepreneurs with coaching, training and networking. Through New Generation Ventures, Thompson has been able to take a number of online classes free of charge, which have helped to improve her design and bookkeeping skills. In addition, she has regular consultations with Amanda Sorrells, a start-up business counselor with the Rural Center.

Thompson said the counseling helped her navigate the red tape of setting up a business in North Carolina, after she arrived here from Wisconsin. Since then, Smash Creative has grown tremendously.

"My design has slowed down because my business has picked up," she said, noting that more clients mean more meetings. "Now I'm looking to hire and expand."