The Golden Leaf Foundation of North Carolina has awarded $650,000 to the coming Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC).

That news is making area economic development officials very happy because the project is seen as a key to the county’s economic development plans, which are centered on aviation and automobile manufacturing.

The Center for Advanced Manufacturing is a giant teaching facility now in the works on High Point Road next to GTCC’s Jamestown Campus. That manufacturing training center will house a transportation and welding program and will train workers needed in the aviation and automobile industries as well as in other manufacturing sectors. The center is expected to be up and running either late this year or early next year. It has about six acres of enclosed space and GTCC President Randy Parker said earlier this year that, “The building is so big, we call it a ‘campus’ now.”

When the center does open, one of the first orders of business will be to train workers for HAECO Americas’ expansion at Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA), but the center will also have the flexibility to focus on specific skill sets that any future employers might need. The center will be able to “take requests” from companies and work that training into the curriculum.

The Golden Leaf money will be used purchase machinery and tools for the center.

The State of North Carolina created the Golden Leaf Foundation in 1999 to administer recurring funds that the state receives due to a legal settlement with cigarette manufacturers. The foundation is charged with promoting the “economic well being of North Carolinians,” and its initiatives are designed to “strengthen the state’s economy through diverse grants making.”

Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing said this week that the manufacturing training center will be a big benefit to the county when it comes to business recruitment and enhancing the local workforce for existing businesses.

“It will help provide the education and training we need,” Lawing said, adding that workforce development was a key to new business recruitment.

According to Lawing, the GTCC manufacturing center appears to be the only Guilford County project to be getting the Golden Leaf money in the current round of funding.

Guilford County Schools also sought funding from the Golden Leaf Foundation, but Lawing said it was his understanding that the foundation saw that project as more of a “continuing program,” and the funders, he said, were looking for new initiatives.

Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brent Christensen said the Center for Advanced Manufacturing will be an impressive place that economic development officials can show off to clients on tours of the county’s resources.

“We can walk a prospect through and they will get wide eyed.” Christensen said.

He said the center would help in the recruitment of aviation companies, which is becoming a focal point of area economic development: PTIA is preparing a large aviation megasite, and several area economic development agencies just came together to hire a new economic development official who’s focused on recruiting aviation companies to the area.

In the last funding round, the Community-Based Grantsmaking Initiative of the Golden Leaf Foundation, the foundation budgeted $20 million to award local governments and nonprofit organizations that promote economic advancement with the best project proposals. That $20 million is now being split among grant winners in counties in central and southwest North Carolina.

GTCC requested $1 million of that money in their last year, but they will gladly take the $650,000.

The Golden Leaf money was to go the strongest projects with a limit of up to $1.5 million per county. Last fall, each eligible county was able to submit up to three projects, and all the grants required a 20 percent cash match by the agency that receives those funds.

At a September 2016 meeting of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, the board approved sending two proposals out of 14 submissions on to Golden Leaf Foundaion – the one from GTCC and the one from Guilford County Schools.

A letter of support from the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce helped the Center for Advanced Manufacturing win Guilford County commissioner approval, and perhaps helped it in foundation’s final selection process as well.

The Guilford County Schools program, called “Workforce of the Future,” would have used the money to help train new teachers in areas related to advanced manufacturing, health care and alternative energy.

Among the proposals the commissioners didn’t approve last fall to send to Golden Leaf money from the process – were proposals by the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Elon University School of Law, a joint proposal from Bennett College and NC A&T State University, as well as ones from East Market Street Development Corp. and the Southwest Renewal Foundation of High Point.