By Todd Cohen
A group of business and civic leaders has formed a foundation to spearhead a regional effort to reverse the declining economy of Eastern North Carolina.
The new Foundation of Renewal for Eastern North Carolina aims to help pull together and then brand and market as a single entity the rural region’s 41 counties.
It also plans to help recruit and support new industry and entrepreneurial enterprise in the region, which it says is home to nine of the 20 poorest counties in the U.S.
“There is not a region-wide entity that champions the region as a whole,’” says J. Phillip Horne, the foundation’s executive vice president.
A public charity that will raise money and may make grants, the Greenville-based foundation already has raised nearly $1 million in cash and pledges to cover startup and operating costs.
Co-chairs of the foundation’s 12-member founding board are H. Kel Landis, CEO of RBC Centura Bank in Rocky Mount, and J. Phil Carlton of Pinetops, CEO of State Capital Global Law Firm Group in Washington, D.C.
Immediate tasks for the foundation are creating a board of advisers representing all the region’s counties, and soliciting ideas for branding the region and spurring its growth.
The foundation also has enlisted Gov. Mike Easley to help lead a two-day summit it will hold early next year to kickstart its effort.
It also is mapping the region’s needs and will set fundraising goals based on those needs, says Horne, formerly associate vice chancellor for alumni relations at East Carolina University in Greenville, chief development officer at Catawba College in Salisbury and director of gift planning at N.C. State University in Raleigh.
The foundation wants to play a handful of roles ranging from booster and marketer to rainmaker, investor and philanthropist, he says.
“Initially, we want to refine the ways we can serve to unite this very large region,” he says, “help brand it both within and without, and set a course to begin to develop leadership for Eastern North Carolina.”
State and local economic development officials, for example, have told the foundation it could help them try to gain access to “angel” investors and venture capital funds, Horne says.
The foundation also wants to serve as a bridge between and among state and local development efforts, he says.
Several recent initiatives focus on Eastern North Carolina, which the foundation says has 37 counties with employment ranging from 3 percent to 12.5 percent, 33 counties with in which one-fifth of the children live in poor households, and 33 counties the state Department of Commerce classifies as economically “distressed.”
The Golden Leaf Foundation, for example, which is funded through the settlement among 46 states and the tobacco industry, has announced a $85.4 million package to stimulate new enterprise in the region, while the Duke Endowment in Charlotte has launched a $10 million grants program to support rural development.
A blueprint for all three foundations is a report by the state’s Rural Prosperity Task Force calling for massive investment in the region.