The Golden LEAF Foundation will award $11 million to selected nonprofits and local government entities in Wilkes and 11 other counties in the Northwest Prosperity Zone through its Community-Based Grants Initiative in 2020-21.

Only projects that address economic development, agriculture, education, workforce development, infrastructure and health care facilities are funded, stated a Golden LEAF press release. Other Northwest Prosperity Zone counties are Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Caldwell, Watauga, Avery, Burke, Catawba, McDowell, Mitchell and Yancey.

The grants are awarded in one or two of the state’s eight “prosperity zones” each year on a rotating basis to support the “building blocks of economic growth,” the release said. Prosperity zones are administrative regions identified by the N.C. Department of Commerce.

The typical limit per county is one to three grants for not over $1.5 million, with grants not approved in every county in the prosperity zone. “A match toward the project from the applicant or other funders helps to make an application more competitive,” the release stated.

The competitive application process for the grants is designed to identify projects ready for implementation and with potential to have significant local economic impact, the press release said.

Each county manager will select grant proposals for his or her county to submit with a letter of inquiry for each to Golden LEAF for consideration, but county government doesn’t have to administer or implement the projects.

“All counties in the invited region can submit a slate of projects to be reviewed, but not all counties will be invited to submit full proposals… and not all submitted projects will be funded,” the release said. From grant letters of inquiry submitted, the Golden LEAF board will invite submission of full applications for some for consideration.

The last time the Northwest Prosperity Zone was eligible for Community-Based Grant funding was in 2015, when the Golden LEAF board awarded $900,000 to the Wilkes County Schools’ Project ADMIT.

This was 75% of $1.2 million sought from Golden LEAF for Project ADMIT, designed to prepare students for high tech jobs. ADMIT stands for Advancing Development in Manufacturing and Integrated Technology.

The $900,000 helped fund facilities at North Wilkes, Wilkes Central and West Wilkes high schools. East Wilkes High already had what it needed.

Golden LEAF chose 13 projects in the Northwest Prosperity Zone for full grant applications out of 23 proposals submitted with letters of inquiry in 2015.

Project ADMIT was among 24 proposals submitted with full applications from the Northwest and Sandhills prosperity zones that year. Those 24 totaled $22.3 million.

The process in 2015 culminated with Golden Needles awarding $12 million in 21 grants in the Northwest and Sandhills prosperity zones combined, with about half going to 11 entities in the Northwest counties.

In addition to Project ADMIT, grants awarded that year ranged from $946,152 for renovating and expanding the Ashe Memorial Hospital Emergency Department to $120,000 for waterlines to the Yancey County Commercial Park.

It also included grants ranging from $350,000 to $750,000 for technology-related education facilities in public schools or community colleges in Caldwell, Burke, Catawba and Avery counties. Sewer lines to an industry in Alexander County also were funded.

The first meeting for the 2020-21 round of funding in the Northwest Prosperity Zone starts at 9 a.m. Feb. 19, at the J.E. Broyhill Center in Lenoir. A Golden LEAF spokesman said attendance at the Feb. 19 meeting is already at capacity but people can be added to a waiting list at https://www.ncruralcenter.org/leadership/regional-leadership-project/.

With funding from Golden LEAF, the NC Rural Center is providing coaching to help entities pursue grants through initiative. This will start with the Feb. 19 event and will engage representatives of public, nonprofit and business sectors.

The Rocky Moint-based Golden LEAF Foundation is an endowment nonprofit that receives 50% of annual payments made by cigarette manufacturers as mandated by a Master Settlement Agreement in the late 1990s.

For more information about the Community-Based Grant Initiative, contact Ted Lord at tlord@goldenleaf.org, Terri Bryant Adou-Dy at tbryant@goldenleaf.org or Marilyn Chism at mchism@goldenleaf.org or by phone at 888-684-8404.

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