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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Rural Center hosted its annual summit on March 21, 2023, at the Raleigh Convention Center with welcoming remarks delivered by Gov. Roy Cooper, a native of Nash County. The theme of this year’s summit was “Driving Policy Change: All Roads Lead to Rural.”

North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives was the presenting sponsor of this year’s summit, which was attended by an estimated 620 people. Rural Center President and CEO Patrick Woodie opened the event by introducing key influences shaping rural North Carolina. A new report titled “Forces Driving Change in Rural North Carolina” is available on the Rural Center website, These driving forces highlight trends in education, health, leadership, infrastructure, and recovery from the pandemic. Breakout sessions addressed top concerns in rural North Carolina, such as broadband, healthcare, housing, small business development, water and wastewater infrastructure, disaster recovery, and weather resiliency.

“These are forces that are present whether we want them to be or not,” Woodie said. “We can’t control the fact that they exist. What we can control is the way in which we as a state, as regions, as communities, and as people choose to respond to them. Within every daunting challenge, there lies opportunity.”

Kwame Christian, a best-selling author, business lawyer, and CEO of the American Negotiation Institute, closed the summit by teaching the audience how to navigate difficult conversations.

“The best things in life are on the other side of difficult conversation,” he said.

Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Tim Moore, House Democratic Leader Robert Reives, Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue and state Senator Michael Lazzara joined a roundtable moderated by Spectrum News host and reporter Loretta Boniti to discuss rural development policies.

Reives, state Sen. Brent Jackson, and state Rep. Dean Arp were honored by the Rural Center as State Legislative Advocates of the Year for their work on behalf of rural North Carolina, particularly for their efforts to expand broadband service and access to capital for underserved businesses.

Angela Caraway of Ansonville was named Community Advocate of the Year for her dedicated work through the Caraway Foundation in Anson and surrounding counties. Caraway’s foundation distributed 1.5 million pounds of food during the COVID pandemic, has provided more than 2,500 refurbished, low-cost computers to families with school-aged children, developed a male-mentoring program, and also supports cancer patients, survivors, and their families.

“Receiving the NC Rural Center 2023 Community Advocate of the Year Award represents not only the work that I do, but the work that the staff, volunteers, and supporters of The Caraway Foundation do,” Caraway said. “This work is bigger than me and to be recognized for it puts more fire under me to keep doing God’s work and supporting all citizens in Anson County and beyond. I’m grateful for the recognition and to the NC Rural Center for choosing me.”