Tobacco firm supporting schools, downtowns

Steve Strawsburg
Steve Strawsburg

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Since 2002, Reynolds American has donated 38 acres of land and former manufacturing facilities in downtown Winston-Salem to Piedmont Triad Research Park.

The gifts, which include $2 million in cash and were worth a total of $19 million, are part of the tobacco holding company’s effort to help transform downtown into a successful research park, says Steve Strawsburg, vice president for corporate social responsibility at RAI Services Company and president of the Reynolds American Foundation.

Total charitable giving by Reynolds American, its affiliated companies and its foundation totaled $10.2 million in 2010, including cash and in-kind donations, says Straswburg.

Giving by the Reynolds American Foundation, which has a $61 million endowment and focuses its giving mainly in Forsyth County and nearby counties, is expected to total over $3 million in 2011, he says.

With a total of 5,500 employees, including 2,600 in the Winston-Salem area, Reynolds American also owns American Snuff Company in Memphis, Tenn., and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company in Santa Fe, N.M., both of which are affiliated with corporate foundations in those cities.

The Reynolds American Foundation focuses its funding on basic human services, community capital campaigns, initiatives to improve outcomes for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County public schools, and efforts to prevent tobacco use by youth.

In 2010, for example, the foundation contributed $800,000 to United Way of Forsyth County, and roughly $350,000 to capital campaigns, and this year it has provided $350,000 to the American Red Cross to support cleanup from tornadoes that struck North Carolina last spring and the hurricane that hit the state this fall.

A year ago, the foundation also made a grant of $130,000 to an effort to boost the graduation rate at Carver High School that is supported through Graduate It Pays, a broader graduation program led by United Way of Forsyth County.

The foundation expects over the next few years to increase its funding significantly from roughly $150,000 last year for programs that make a significantly impact on improving educational outcomes and the graduation rate.

For nearly 20 years, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has offered for free to schools throughout the U.S. a youth tobacco-prevention curriculum it helped develop, and the foundation now is looking for ways to combine support for programs to improve the graduation rate with efforts to prevent tobacco use by youth.

And starting in 2012, it is considering expanding its grantmaking for programs to prevent tobacco use by youth.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company recently donated 360 acres of industrial land in Davie County valued at $3.5 million to the Davie County Economic Development Authority.

The land will be used by the Authority to attract and recruit new businesses to the county, Strawsburg says.

The company also made a gift recently of over 3,000 pieces of art worth a total of $700,000 to the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County Arts Council to either sell or provide for use by the public.

And it serves as a sponsor of major events such as the Riverrun International Film Festival, National Black Theater Festival, and the inaugural Winston-Salem Tennis Open this year that “offer the opportunity to demonstrate the transformation of our community over time,” Strawsburg says.

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