Columbus County is among the state’s 40 most economically distressed counties, as ranked by the North Carolina Department of Commerce. It is called a Tier One county, which is exactly what the Golden Leaf Foundation helps. A meeting in Whiteville Wednesday night gave foundation leaders a chance to hear where money is most needed.
“Our county has economic development needs, we have infrastructure needs, we have educational needs, and we have socioeconomic needs,” said Columbus County manager Bill Clark.
The Golden Leaf Foundation works with counties that have been affected by the decline in the tobacco industry to help them diversify their economies. It has two million dollars to offer to Columbus County, as part of the state’s master settlement agreement with tobacco companies.
Pat Cabe of the Golden Leaf Foundation said, “We’re asking citizens how best to invest those dollars, to really make a difference in Columbus County.”
Everyone, from mayors to school leaders to the sheriff put their heads together. “One of the best things we could do is something that would help with job creation and maybe business start-up,” offered Chadbourn Town Manager Stevie Cox.
There are any numbers of areas that need an economic shot in the arm. With a county unemployment rate of more than 13 percent, there was a big focus on jobs. But it is a matter of this group coming to a consensus of where their county needs the most help.
There will be more meetings in the coming months. The group will eventually decide on a final project to use the money.
The entire process could take up to six months.