The Cooperative Difference contributing factor to make North Carolina an economically strong state - Carolina Country

A Recipe for Economic Development Success

NC’s electric co-ops are channeling millions in grants and loans to communities they serve

By Susan Cashion

Susan J. Cashion

Susan J. Cashion

We are fortunate to live in a state where the economy is strong and economically attractive to investors from the United States and abroad. For the second year in a row, our Tar Heel State was named America’s Top State for Business by CNBC. Announcements by Apple, Toyota, Wolfspeed, ThermoFisher, and many others show that some of the world’s most prominent companies are choosing and building their futures in our state.

Becoming an economically strong state did not occur overnight. It took the vision of state leaders to focus on the basic needs of North Carolinians. When people love where they live — with good educational opportunities, quality healthcare and a place where they can raise their families — the equation is complete to make our state attractive to economic development. Our state has the workforce and strong communities where businesses can be successful. Adding in the scenic beauty from our mountains to our coast, it is easy to understand why North Carolina is ranked so highly.

Electric cooperatives focus on making our communities strong and attractive places to work, to live, and to raise a family. This focus is one of many distinctions that make up what we call the Cooperative Difference.

North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives have made more than $100 million in economic development grants and loans.

One of my roles at Piedmont Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Orange County, is to oversee the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG) program. North Carolina’s electric cooperatives have consistently been among the top awardees from all 50 states in providing funds from the REDLG program to help promote economic development. At Piedmont Electric Cooperative, we have focused our REDLG program of zero-interest loans on emergency services and education. We see the lasting partnerships with our fire departments, emergency services and educational institutions as our way of making our communities stronger. Strengthening these community entities is a key ingredient for attracting economic developers.

In rural areas, our communities need our help and the USDA’s REDLG program has allowed Piedmont Electric Cooperative to make loans for 36 fire trucks, 7 fire stations, 6 ambulances, 4 school projects, a public library and an economic development warehouse. Of the 36 fire trucks, 10 have been for towns and cities and 26 have been for volunteer fire departments. Early on we learned that an added benefit of supporting fire departments is that new and reliable equipment helps lower their North Carolina Insurance Services Office (ISO) ratings, which lower the cost of homeowners’ premiums.

Since our first REDLG loan in 2014, our projects have exceeded more than $19 million in loans and we have established almost $6 million in a revolving loan fund that can expedite loan requests. We have made REDLG loans in all six counties that we serve, supporting all of our territory.

Multiply these projects from Piedmont Electric Cooperative by the 25 other electric cooperatives in the state, and the impact of this program is clearly visible. In fact, since 2015, North Carolina’s 26 electric cooperatives have made more than $100 million in economic development grants and loans that have contributed to 6,000 jobs created in rural NC through more than 100 projects across the state.

As we transition into an environment with higher interest rates, we look forward to using this essential tool to finance economic development activities and to strengthen the communities we serve.

About the Author

Susan J. Cashion is vice president of Compliance and administrative officer for Hillsborough-based Piedmont Electric Cooperative.

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