We believe the ability to earn an income which can sufficiently support a family is at the foundation of sustaining a healthy life. We believe economic opportunity is our greatest weapon in the fight against poverty and to improve all social determinants of health. Dogwood Health Trust’s Economic Opportunity portfolio aims to equitably support every western North Carolinian in their efforts to earn a wage that will allow them to support themselves and their family, regardless of status, gender or ethnicity.
COVID-19 hit WNC’s tourism economy especially hard and shined a stark light on what our region already knew – that we must diversify. Using the philanthropic tools of impact investing and program-related investments, Dogwood Health Trust helps our region’s economic developers attract and grow local businesses to create a more dynamic economy with jobs that support families in their pursuit of healthy and fulfilling lives.
McDowell Community Technical College, in partnership with Dogwood, has developed an innovative curriculum to provide practical skills training in general construction, construction project management and a specialized elective in modular housing installation. Students can participate in paid internships before and after high school graduation at single-family modular home construction sites and in the home repair program, both of which are administered by Gateway Wellness Foundation. This program will produce a ready stream of skilled construction workers and project managers for a sector that has a shortage of employees.
Dogwood provided initial funding for the Community Equity Fund at Eagle Market Streets Community Development Corporation to help increase access to flexible capital for entrepreneurs of color. By providing access to capital, technical assistance and the support of a cohort, the Community Equity Fund is expected to serve up to 30 businesses and support approximately 150 jobs to help BIPOC business owners and workers begin to build assets and create wealth. For each family that has one member that owns a business, the wealth gap decreases from 12% to 3%.
At its core, the Mountain BizWorks Accelerating Outdoors project connects the health of WNC’s economy to the health of its people and places. Access to the outdoors is a powerful driver of population health, and equitable access is a core part of this project. Dogwood’s funding deepens engagement with rural and economically distressed communities, including helping rural people enjoy the amazing outdoor assets in their backyards and build businesses and careers centered around the outdoors. This includes working with BIPOC communities in WNC to elevate both existing and new organizations that are dedicated to getting more people of color outdoors and into the outdoor industry.
Getting into college is an education milestone, but for many students, staying in college and navigating the educational, social/emotional and financial demands is a much bigger challenge. That’s why Western Piedmont Community College and Dogwood invested in College Success Coaches to aid students in their college education journey. The college created positions for two Success Coaches responsible for contacting and regularly interacting with students, especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning. Coaches help students understand “how to be a student” in addition to how to engage in their virtual classes. Research shows that students assigned a coach are 4% more likely to stay enrolled for two academic years and that success coaching results in a 9% increase in credential completion.
WNC is a busy ecosystem of farms, food producers, restaurants and other food-related businesses. With help from WNC FoodWorks, more budding businesses can become part of the regional food economy. Operated by WNC Blue Ridge Food Ventures, WNC FoodWorks is a 5,000 square foot training and educational facility for aspiring food entrepreneurs, located at the WNC Farmers Market in Asheville. WNC FoodWorks serves as an entry-level facility for new and aspiring entrepreneurs such as food truck operators, farm-based businesses, value-added products and others requiring support to launch new food business enterprises. The venture anticipates 36 new enterprises and 50 new jobs within the first three years after opening. They also expect that more than 200 individuals will receive technical guidance on proper food manufacturing and marketing.
Strong leaders are critical in rural communities, and the skills and abilities of local leadership can have a drastic impact on the quality of life in a region. As an organization that values leadership development, Hinton Rural Life Center saw a need for rural leadership development and created a leadership program that addresses rural-specific issues that leaders face in their communities. The program began with a local leadership program called Leadership Chatuge. The program has graduated three classes, and Dogwood’s partnership provided support for a fourth, with an expectation to graduate approximately 15-25 leaders in 2022 in the westernmost subregion of Dogwood’s footprint.
Help build a skilled workforce with the knowledge and technical abilities to excel in a wide range of industry employment opportunities that provide a competitive, sustainable wage
Help build a regional economic ecosystem that supports increased creation/retention of jobs and business ownership
Support a well-funded, sustainable, competitive entrepreneur and small business ecosystem throughout the region