University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: $2 million grant to Carolina program will rebuild, fortify local economies across North Carolina and beyond

Today, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced new programming that will transform economically distressed communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Focusing on powerful partnerships, the programs will help build resilient local economies with more job opportunities and business growth in North Carolina and across the country.

A $2 million grant from the Truist Foundation will fund the Anchor Institutions Create Economic Resilience program, or AICER, housed at CREATE, an economic development center at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. The AICER program works with anchor institutions — such as universities, tribal and local governments, and hospitals — to source their goods and services from minority-owned firms, rural businesses and local suppliers in COVID-impacted communities.

“Carolina’s mission is to use our scholarship, research and expertise to work alongside communities in our state and beyond to improve lives,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “This grant from the Truist Foundation enables the AICER program to do that by putting Carolina expertise to work and helping shape more resilient local economies, starting here in North Carolina.”

Funding from the Truist Foundation will enable experts at Carolina to work alongside six anchor institutions from across the country to assess their current procurement practices and identify opportunities for purchasing goods and services from targeted businesses. AICER will offer local businesses guidance and technical assistance to work through the procurement process while connecting business owners to resources as needed to help ensure success. This grant also continues the AICER program’s ongoing work with two anchor institutions within the UNC System: UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Pembroke.

“The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have been significant, particularly for historically overlooked communities,” said Lynette Bell, president of the Truist Foundation. “Truist Foundation is committed to not only helping these communities rebuild but also to building wealth, institutional and economic power. This grant to UNC-Chapel Hill will ensure their resiliency and sustainability.”

Additionally, the program will facilitate connections with the Institute for Innovation at the UNC School of Law to help guide small businesses and nonprofit organizations through the legal aspects of the contract process. The project will also create a national AICER Partners Network to share resources, feedback and lessons learned among partners.

“The United States is experiencing the greatest level of income and wealth inequality since the 1920s, and the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges for workers trying to improve their economic futures,” said Mark Little, executive director of CREATE. “We believe that intentional procurement policies and practices will enable anchor institutions to support a robust economic recovery, more resilient supply chains and long-term sustainable economic development across the nation.”

Funding from the Truist Foundation also continues support of SmartUp, a place-based equitable economic development program. In 2019, SmartUp launched to accelerate growing companies and create jobs for diverse populations in North Carolina’s Elizabeth City and Triad regions along with South Carolina’s Lowcountry. The AICER and SmartUp programs prioritize communities with high African American, Latino or Native American populations, as these groups have experienced disproportionately negative economic outcomes due to COVID-19.

“This is an investment in the AICER program, as well as the anchor institutions and the small and minority-owned businesses that will benefit from the guidance, expertise and business growth that this grant will help unlock,” said Chris Bell, Triangle regional president for Truist, speaking on behalf of the Truist Foundation. “Truist is committed to inspire and build better lives and communities, and AICER will help provide economic stability and opportunity to individuals and communities in North Carolina and across the U.S.”