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Director's Log

Interim Director’s Log | September 2022

Sarah Langer Hall headshot
IEI Interim Director Sarah Langer Hall

Let’s DIY, Together

To know me is to know that I love a good project. Whether it’s a fall-themed craft out of wood scraps (thank you Pinterest), a new shelving unit to organize my kids’ clutter, or a clever way to celebrate local leaders making NC Better 2Gether, I dive in and take pride in the final product. But I’ve never bought into the term “do it yourself.” Those of us that do projects well—and enjoy doing them—know one very important thing: DIY is better when it’s done together. We need people to bounce ideas off of and to steer us in the right direction. When we lack capacity and resources, we seek them out from others. We need people to problem solve with when we get stuck, and to celebrate with when we succeed. Projects are better with people, so forget do-it-yourself and let’s do more together.

I have just the project to get you started. Earlier this month, we released our Digital Inclusion Planning Guide, a helpful resource for counties and stakeholders beginning the digital inclusion planning process. It includes a list of the partners in your community you should round up for this type of comprehensive planning effort. We’re also excited to announce that we’ve received a $250,000 grant from the John M. Belk Endowment to help bridge North Carolina’s digital divide by supporting the development and implementation of digital inclusion plans in eight additional counties. Should IEI raise an additional $250,000 by August 2023, the endowment will match these funds! We’re thrilled that Samantha Graham, IEI’s new policy and program manager and director of the BAND-NC program, has deep expertise in digital equity and is ready to scale this program statewide.  

Another fun and interesting project our team worked on together—we sponsored and attended Farm Aid, an annual concert established in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land. We learned about the challenges and opportunities in North Carolina’s #1 industry, agriculture, which accounts for one-sixth of income and employment in the state, and what it will take to achieve a thriving food economy. We talked to exhibitors in the Homegrown Village and even filmed a few “Emerging Issues in Ag Minutes” which you can find on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Learn more and tell us what you think are the most important issues in agriculture here

Next month we’ll launch our newest project, the Talent First Economics Community Cohort. Made up of five regional teams, the cohort will serve as a peer learning network for the 2023 Emerging Issues Forum to increase collaboration among workforce, economic and community development leaders to ensure their regions are better equipped to grow their workforce, with a focus on underrepresented workers. Cohort members will participate in the NC Workforce Development Leadership Initiative and become the first in the nation to earn the designation of Certified Workforce Developer. 

Finally, I want to follow-up on the Talent First Economics Task Force that I wrote about last month in the director’s log. Thank you for the overwhelming response and interest. We held our first meeting on September 9 and at one point our task force co-chair and Practitioner-In-Residence, Philip Cooper, asked the 50+ people in the room to raise their hand if they had “lived experience,” related to the underrepresented groups of workers we were examining. More than half the room raised their hands, and it was powerful. Here are just three (of many) takeaways from that first meeting: 1) we need to unlearn a lot of our assumptions—even those that appear neutral, 2) too many resources live in silos for populations with overlapping identities, 3) the need for reliable and accessible childcare and transportation cannot be understated, and a bonus 4) if you volunteer your time to support the underdog, you’re a “Change Agent.”