Panels took place every Thursday at 11 a.m. from May 7 through June 4. A moderator hosted each session, and expert panelists spoke to the issue, policy solutions, and local innovations. We recognize, too, that there exists a nexus between our Rural Talk topics and the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, and our panelists addressed how these issues intersect. Each one-hour session consisted of a 45 minute discussion, followed by a Q&A period.
This panel session focused on rural broadband, specifically issues related to accessibility, affordability, adoption and digital inclusion, and the impact of COVID-19. Thank you for joining us for this session on Thursday, May 7, at 11 a.m. to hear perspectives from experts at the local, state, and federal levels.
|Jody Heustess is the Vice President of Marketing and Customer Care at the Brunswick County-based communications cooperative, ATMC. Heustess has been with ATMC since 2003, serving previously as marketing manager, where he was responsible for product development and corporate communications and marketing. In his current role, he is responsible for ATMC’s business services, marketing, customer care, video production, security, and training functions. While at ATMC, he has been part of a team that has secured grant funding needed to expand rural broadband to more than 7,000 homes in rural Columbus County, and used self-funded projects to expand or improve broadband for more than 20,000 homes in Brunswick County.|
|Robert Hosford is the North Carolina State Director for USDA Rural Development. Prior to serving in his position at USDA, Hosford worked with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in a variety of roles, including the International Marketing Section, where he worked with industrial crops and foreign direct investment opportunities, and as Intergovernmental Affairs and Military Liaison, where he built relationships around state government agencies, the Department of Defense, and leadership within commands on military bases in North Carolina. In 2004, Hosford was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as the Confidential Advisor to the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency. During this time, he also performed additional duties related to the President’s Council on Environmental Quality.|
|Jeff Sural joined the Department of Information Technology in January 2015 as the Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO). With the stated mission of creating the nation’s first giga-state by 2021, BIO leads the statewide initiative to expand high-speed internet access for all North Carolinians, focusing its resources on underserved rural communities. The office provides policy recommendations and guidance to government leaders and key stakeholders to foster broadband infrastructure expansion, ad option, and use. Sural earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a J.D. from the Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School.|
|Sarah Thompson serves as the Executive Director of the Southwestern Commission in Sylva. Ms. Thompson is a graduate of the Rural Center’s REDI program and initiated a partnership with the NC Rural Center to bring the Homegrown Leaders training, a regional leadership training, to the Southwestern region of NC in 2016. Her past leadership roles in rural community development include serving on the Sylva Town Board, Chair of Jackson County’s planning board, and Sylva’s Main Street Director. She currently serves as the Chair of Thread Capital and on the board of the Dogwood Health Trust.|
|Sen. Harry Brown is currently serving in his eighth term in the North Carolina Senate, where he was elected by his colleagues to serve as Majority Leader for the past ten years. As a co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations/ Base Budget Committee, his main priority during the legislative session is developing a balanced state budget. In addition to serving as co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations/ Base Budget Committee, Brown serves as a member of the following Senate Standing Committees: Commerce and Insurance; Finance; Judiciary’ and Rules and Operations of the Senate. Brown has previously served as chairman of the Jacksonville/Onslow Chamber of Commerce, president of the Jacksonville Breakfast Rotary Club, and president of the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association. Brown is a Jones County native and currently lives in Jacksonville.|
|Rep. Zack Hawkins became the youngest person elected to represent the City of Durham in North Carolina House District 31. Hawkins serves on the Full Appropriations, Appropriations, Capital, Redistricting, and Energy and Public Utilities Committee in the N.C. House of Representatives. Hawkins also co-chairs the House Broadband working group and was chosen by the House Transportation Chair to become a member of the House Select Committee on Transportation. Having started his career as a science teacher, Hawkins has a sincere passion for education. He has more than 10 years of experience in higher education, nonprofit, and political fundraising; special events; and alumni relations, and 18 years of direct community and political engagement. He also currently serves as the chief development officer for the Division of Student Affairs at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Hawkins is a Beaufort County native and currently lives in Durham.|
Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development
This panel session focused on rural entrepreneurship and small business development, specifically issues related to access to capital, sector growth and support, the economic development ecosystem, and the impact of COVID-19. Thank you for joining us for this session on Thursday, May 14, at 11 a.m. to hear perspectives from the local and state levels.
|José Alvarez is the vice president of Prospera North Carolina, a Florida-based nonprofit focused on providing bilingual support and assistance to Hispanic entrepreneurs looking to start or expand their business. With Propsera North Carolina, Alvarez is managing the first office out of Florida as part of a national expansion plan to provide the statewide Latino community with culturally focused and in-language business support to help increase economic opportunities through entrepreneurship. His current responsibilities include running statewide operations, including fundraising, designing programming and handling community and government relations.|
Talitha Batts is the director of the policy center at The North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development in Durham, North Carolina. Batts graduated from the University of North Carolina- Charlotte with a bachelor’s in political science and english, and from North Carolina Central University with a master’s in education technology. She is currently pursuing a doctorate at North Carolina State University in educational leadership, policy, and human development. Batts previously managed application integrations and organizational development for First Union National Bank and Lenovo. She uses her experience working with Fortune 500 companies and her keen business skills to provide management education, business counseling, and technology development to the business community, particularly minority and women-owned enterprises. Batts also serves on the executive board of United Nations Women and the All Ladies League, empowering women through enterprise, innovation, and leadership vision and voice.
|Jonathan Brereton is the executive director of Thread Capital. Prior to joining Thread’s team, he guided Accion Chicago, an Illinois-based community development financial institution (CDFI) for 14 years before moving to North Carolina in 2017. Brereton led Accion to a place of financial strength and national prominence, including collaboration on a first-of-its-kind $34 million food production incubator. Brereton has done additional work to develop a more robust CDFI ecosystem throughout the country.|
|Matt Raker is an economic developer focused on place-based and entrepreneurial strategies. He serves as executive director at Mountain BizWorks where he helps expand the opportunity of local business ownership across Western North Carolina by increasing access to capital and high-quality peer learning programs. Over the last five years, Raker and the BizWorks team have increased their lending capacity for rural WNC small businesses more than five-fold, and have helped 473 new companies start and 750 more expand. Prior to Mountain BizWorks, Raker directed entrepreneurial development at a state-sponsored economic development agency where he led projects expanding regional investment and job creation. He’s also contracted the entrepreneur-bug himself, co-founding 3 area businesses. Raker holds degrees in economics and natural resources management from University of North Carolina Asheville.|
|Kim Graham is the Community Development Manager for the Mid-Atlantic Region for First Horizon Bank. Graham started in the financial services industry after graduating from college, beginning her career at Wachovia Bank in their management development program. Graham has previously worked for BB&T, Bank of America, CommunityOne Bank, BNC, and Pinnacle Financial Partners. Graham is an honors graduate from Johnson C. Smith University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in computer science. Graham is also an active community volunteer and serves on the board of directors at Mosaic Development Group, Thread Capital, and the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development, and previously served on the board of directors for the NC Rural Center and the Friendship Community Development Corporation.|
|Sen. Jay Chaudhuri is a state senator, representing District 15 (Raleigh, Cary, and Garner) and has for two decades worked at the highest levels of all three branches in state government. Chaudhuri previously served as Special Counsel to then-Attorney General Roy Cooper, where he helped lead an investigation by all 50 Attorneys General that resulted in a landmark agreement with two leading social networking sites, MySpace and Facebook, to help protect children from Internet predators. As General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisory to State Treasurer Janet Cowell, Chaudhuri helped recover almost $100 million back to the pension and escheat funds. Chaudhuri was elected by Senate Democrats to serve as Majority Whip for the 2019-2020 legislative session.|
|Rep. Stephen Ross is serving Alamance County in his fourth term in the North Carolina General Assembly. A Burlington native and graduate of Elon University, Ross also received a master’s in public administration from North Carolina State University. Ross is also a proud Eagle Scout and serves as a life member of the National Eagle Scout Association. Previously, Ross served on the Burlington city council for twenty years, including two terms as mayor. Ross received the Legislator of the Year award from the North Carolina League of Municipalities for his service and was also named Legislator of the Year by the North Carolina Metro Mayors Coalition. In addition to his government and community service, Ross has an extensive background in the private sector as a financial advisor. Ross currently serves as senior chairman of the Commerce committee and the co-chair of the Economic Development and Global Engagement committee, as well as serves on the State and Local Government, Insurance and Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House committees.|
This panel session focused on rural health, specifically regarding access to care, provider needs and shortages, social determinants and drivers, and the impact of COVID-19. Thank you for joining us for this session on Thursday, May 21, at 11 a.m. to hear perspectives from the local, state, and national levels.
|Alice Schenall currently serves as Quality Improvement Director at Rural Health Group, Inc., a federally qualified community health center dedicated to providing primary medical care, dental care, and other health-related services for their region’s underserved. Schenall has more than 20 years of experience working in several domains of health to include: health education, administration, coalition-building, and health professions workforce development. Schenall leads a team who is responsible for: monitoring and tracking quality measures to determine best ways to support each clinical team to address gaps; addressing population health; strategizing and testing interventions with senior leaders to shift from volume to value; coordinating methods to achieve goals for quality incentives (interoperability, payers); providing oversight and maintenance for all PCMH reporting and maintenance; coaching and training based customized to teams and departments using the model for improvement; and collaborating with providers and their teams to improve the effectiveness and efficiencies of provider practices.|
|Dr. Laura Gerald is a physician and president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Gerald has decades of leadership experience in health care delivery, rural health, philanthropy, nonprofit management, and public health. Gerald grew up in rural North Carolina, where she returned later to work as a pediatrician. Gerald has previously served as the executive director of the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission and North Carolina State Health Director. Gerald holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University. She is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.|
|Alan Morgan services as the CEO for the National Rural Health Association. Morgan has more than 28 years of experience in health policy at the state and federal level, and is one of the nation’s leading experts on rural health policy. Morgan has served as a contributing author for the publications, “Policy and Politics in Nursing and Health Care” and “Rural Populations and Health.” In addition, Morgan’s health policy articles have been published in numerous journals, including The Journal of Rural Health and The American Journal of Clinical Medicine. Morgan previously served as staff for U.S. Congressman Dick Nichols and former Kansas Governor Mike Hayden.
|Allison Owen has worked in the Office of Rural Health since 2005, working in a variety of roles to support rural and underserved communities throughout North Carolina. Currently as deputy director, Owen manages a number of initiatives, including rural health information technology, budget and contract management, rural health center operations, and integrated health and community health workforce development.Owen brings expertise in contract development, budget management, and project execution with a focus on continuous quality improvement and return on investment. A native North Carolinian, Owen grew up in Robeson County and completed her undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, earning a bachelor’s degree in English education. She earned her master’s degree in public administration from Georgia Southern University.
Mike Woodard is the North Carolina State Senator representing District 22: Durham, Granville, and Person counties. Before joining the General Assembly in 2013, Woodard served on the Durham City Council for seven years. Woodard currently serves on the Health Care, Finance, Budget, Transportation, and Agriculture and Environment committees. He is co-chair of the Life Sciences Caucus and of the Arts Caucus, as well as an active member of the Agriculture-Rural Caucus. Woodard is a long-time administrator with Duke University and the Duke Health System. He also worked as an administrator and instructor at Durham Technical Community College. A native of Wilson, North Carolina, he graduated from Duke with degrees in economics, political science, and nonprofit management. Woodard has been active in community affairs for more than 30 years. He served as State President of the North Carolina Jaycees and President of the Durham Jaycees. In addition, he has held leadership roles with St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the Durham Arts Council, the Durham Rotary Club, the Dispute Settlement Center, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, and Triangle United Way.
|Representative Josh Dobson has served in the North Carolina House of Representatives for four terms, representing the people of Avery, McDowell and Mitchell counties. Prior to his appointment to the House in 2013, Dobson served as a McDowell County Commissioner. Dobson currently serves as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, as well chairman of the Health Policy Committee, Dobson has worked diligently to find consensus while producing conservative common-sense solutions for the people of North Carolina. During the 2017-2018 legislative interim, Dobson served as chairman of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, chairman of the subcommittee on Aging, and chairman of the subcommittee on Student Health for the select committee on Safer Schools. Dobson received his associate’s degree from McDowell Tech Community College, a bachelor’s degree from Gardner Webb University, and a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University.|
This panel session focused on rural housing, specifically around the issues of affordability, accessibility, sector capacity building, and the impact of COVID-19. Thank you for joining us for this session on Thursday, May 28, at 11 a.m. to hear perspectives from the local and state levels.
|Samuel Gunter has served North Carolina through the North Carolina Housing Coalition since 2015, and has served as its executive director since 2018. Gunter currently sits on the Advocacy Committee of Habitat for Humanity International, and on the board of directors for both Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina and the Council of Independent State Housing Associations. Gunter has a background in community development and public policy from his time at Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, and his years serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA and on the Peace Corps. Gunter received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree from Duke Divinity School. Gunter is also a Baptist minister who has served churches in North Carolina and Texas.|
|Laura Hogshead was appointed chief operating officer of the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) in late 2018. In this role, Hogshead oversees the expenditure of hurricane recovery funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for areas hit by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. Laura is a native North Carolinian who, before returning to her home state, spent most of her career in Washington, DC. She was the HUD chief operating officer from 2013 to 2017 and served as a lead HUD staffer on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee from 2007 to 2013. Before that, she was a Presidential Management Fellow at HUD, specializing in homeless programs.|
|Sallie Surface is the executive director of the Choanoke Area Development Association of North Carolina, Inc. (CADA). For more than 37 years, Surface has worked through partnerships and with local communities to secure resources so that all North Carolinians have access to quality, affordable housing. Surface works diligently to ensure that new avenues are created to finance rural housing across the entire continuum of housing needs, keeping in mind that housing is a social determinant of health and an economic engine for our rural communities.|
|Debby Warren is a consultant for a variety of nonprofits and helps organizations creatively respond to change. Warren’s diverse set of organizational skills, honed through years of leading effective nonprofits, includes capacity building, strategic planning, training and facilitation, program design, and synthesizing complex data into digestible bites. Warren previously served as a statewide community economic development specialist for North Carolina’s legal services programs and led a 12-state collaborative to build development infrastructure in the southeast.|
|Representative David R. Lewis was first elected to the North Carolina State House in 2002 and represents House District 53, which encompasses most of Harnett County, including the city of Dunn, and the towns of Angier, Coats, Erwin, and Lillington. Lewis was born in Fayetteville and grew up in the Dunn area, where he attended Cape Fear High School. Lewis went on to receive a degree in business administration from Campbell University, which recognized him and for his professional accomplishments and service to his alma mater with their Distinguished Alumni award in 2013. Lewis currently serves as the chairman of the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House and the Redistricting Committee. Lewis is known for his work on the 2013 tax reform legislation. Lewis is a tobacco and cotton farmer by trade and resides in Dunn.|
|Representative Yvonne Lewis Holley was first elected to the North Carolina State House in 2013 and serves Housing District 38, which is in Wake County. Holley attended Enloe High School and was one of the first students of desegregation. Holley received her bachelor’s degree from Howard University, and her career has been dedicated to education, health, economics, youth development, and political advocacy. Holley has been a public servant for more than 25 years. In her time in the House, Holley has worked to relieve food deserts across the state. She has worked to gather bipartisan support for closing the gap in food insecure areas. Holley currently serves as vice chair of the Regulatory Reform Committee, and serves on a number of other committees, including the Finance Committee, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, and the Transportation Committee.|
Rural Water and Wastewater Infrastructure
This panel session focused on rural water and wastewater infrastructure, specifically regarding issues of fiscal and internal management, sustainability, and the impact of COVID-19. Thank you for joining us for this panel on Thursday, June 4, at 11 a.m. to hear perspectives from the local and state levels.
|Mayor Gloristine Brown is a longtime resident of Bethel, with an enduring commitment to serving her neighbors and community. She is always networking and looking for ways to enhance her community. She has served as Mayor since April 2014, prior to serving Mayor, she served as Town Commissioner for 14 years. Her journey has allowed her to earn her BS and MPA degree with Strayer University. Brown currently serves on the following boards: North Carolina Mayor’s Association-Chair; North Carolina League of Municipalities Board of Directors; Pitt Community College Board of Trustees (Secretary), and various committees. The Town of Bethel “the destinations to live in eastern North Carolina just close enough to the city that offers old-time charm and exceptional family-friendly amenities.”|
Kim Colson is director of the Division of Water Infrastructure in North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality and a Licensed Professional Engineer in North Carolina. The Division administers all the state’s water infrastructure funding programs. As director of the Division he serves as chair of the State Water Infrastructure Authority. He is also president of the national Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities. He has been in the water resources industry for over 30 years working both with a privately-owned public utility and North Carolina’s environmental agency.
|Sharon Edmunson is the director of the fiscal management section of the State and Local Government Finance Division of the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer. Edmundson previously served as one of the assistant directors of this section, a position she held for two years, and was a staff member in the section for six years. She has also worked in public accounting for 10 years and as an internal auditor for four years. Edmundson is also currently an adjunct faculty member of the School of Government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus in accounting from UNC and a master’s degree in public administration from North Carolina State University. She is a member of the North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants and has twice chaired the Governmental Accounting and Auditing Committee. Edmundson is also a graduate of Leadership North Carolina, Class XXII.|
|Rose Vaughn Williams is the associate executive director of public and government affairs for the North Carolina League of Municipalities. She oversees and manages the development and executive of the League’s legislative affairs, advocacy strategies, and communication campaigns and outreach, as well as serves as a member of the senior leadership team. Prior to joining the League in January 2015, she served as legislative counsel to the North Carolina Department of Insurance, where her work was selected in the top 50 of the “Most Influential Lobbyists in the General Assembly” by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research survey of legislators, lobbyists, and state capitol press corps. Williams previously served as a District Court judge, practiced law in private practice for 11 years, and served as clerk to Justice John Webb on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Williams earned both her bachelor’s and law degrees from The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.|
|Senator Donald G. Davis represents the 5th Senatorial District of North Carolina, which consists of Pitt and Greene counties. Davis is a 1994 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, where he received a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. Davis also earned a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in sociology with a focus in social issues in regional development from East Carolina University. Davis also holds a doctorate in educational leadership from ECU. Davis previously served as the mayor of Snow Hill for seven years and has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and more than eight years of active duty in the United States Air Force. He is currently a member of a number of standing committees, including the Appropriation on Education/Higher Education and the Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources committees.|
|Representative Chuck McGrady is now serving his fifth and final term in the North Carolina General Assembly, representing the 117th House District. McGrady graduated from Mercer University School of Law and after graduating, taught law at Wayne State University Law School in Michigan and clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. McGrady has a long history of public and community service, volunteering with Leadership Hendersonville, the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, Friends of DuPont Forest, the Habitat for Humanity Advisory Board. McGrady also previously served as executive director for the Environmental & Conservation Organization of Henderson County and served on the board of directors for the Henderson County Board of Commissioners from 2004 to 2010. He is a chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and is known for seeking bipartisan solutions to a wide-ranging set of issues.|
Engaging Elected Officials
Our bonus Rural Talk webinar on engaging elected officials informed, engaged, and activated participants, our trusted rural advocates, to connect with elected leaders in Raleigh and at home. Thank you for joining us for this panel on Thursday, July 9, at 11 a.m. to hear perspectives from the local and state levels.
|Debra L. Derr credits her success to being in the right place at the right time and willing to take a chance on herself. Her background as a radio announcer and eventually a television producer/writer laid the groundwork for a career in public relations and government affairs. As a former congressional press secretary, her one-minute speeches were an example of how to write them for the congressman’s freshman class. She was a founding member of the Wake County Commission on Women, where she was the public affairs director of the county. Debra was a part of a team of lobbyists that helped lead the effort to bring video competition to North Carolina and was consistently ranked among the Top 50 Most Influential Lobbyists when she was with BellSouth. Before returning to her government affairs roots with the NC Chamber, she was chief deputy secretary for the NC Department of Cultural Resources and a partner in Market Solutions, etc. Debra was a 2010 recipient of the General Federation of Women’s Club Women of Achievement Award and is a member of the Public Affairs Institute Class of 2022. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from Norfolk State University, where she was graduated, Cum Laude.|
|Dana Simpson co-chairs the Government Relations practice at Smith Anderson and regularly represents clients before the North Carolina General Assembly and with State agencies. Dana advises clients regarding legislative and regulatory advocacy, public relations, issues management, economic development initiatives, ethics, and campaign finance law compliance. Dana has been consistently rated one of the “Most Influential” lobbyists in North Carolina by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, including previously being rated the number one “Most Influential.”|
|Christopher Stock is the Legislative Assistant for Senator Brent Jackson. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University where he majored in Political Science and was a Susan Carter and Abraham Holtzman scholar. He also received a minor in Chinese Studies. He is currently a law student at Campbell University School of Law here in Raleigh. Christopher has been working in the General Assembly since 2016, where he worked with former Senator Wesley Meredith of Cumberland County as well. Christopher has had an abundance of experience working in government at both the state and federal level. He has worked in the Washington D.C. Congressional Office of Rep. David Rouzer, NC District and Superior Court, NC Department of Criminal Justice, NC Conference of Clerks for the Superior Court, and the NC Republican Party. Christopher is also a 2020 Spring Fellow of the North Carolina Institute of Political Leadership. Christopher is originally from Old Tappan, New Jersey, but grew up in Wake Forest, NC, where he has lived for the last fifteen years. He is a graduate of Wakefield High School here in Raleigh.|
|Nelle Hotchkiss is the chief operating officer and senior vice president of association services for the N.C. Electric Membership Corporation. She serves as a board member for a number of organizations, including the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for N.C. A&T State University, N.C. Cooperative Council, N.C. Institute for Political Leadership, and the N.C. Agribusiness Council Boards of Directors.|