State of North Carolina: North Carolina Regions Innovating for Strong Economies and Environment (RISE)

Regions Innovating for Strong Economies and Environment (RISE) is a program created by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) and the North Carolina (NC) Rural Center. RISE supports resilience efforts in eastern North Carolina regions that have been impacted by recent storms. RISE promotes community-led resilience efforts, provides guidance to community members, builds local capacity, and brings leaders together to develop regional networks. RISE is funded by a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant and the Duke Energy Foundation. One initiative under the RISE program is Homegrown Leaders, which is a leadership and economic development training program created by the NC Rural Center. RISE and Homegrown Leaders are noteworthy examples of  regional-scale approaches to overcome local resource challenges and comprehensively address future economic development and equity in rural communities as a part of resilience initiatives. 

NCORR was created in response to repetitive and destructive storms that hit eastern North Carolina. The office leads North Carolina’s “efforts in rebuilding smarter and stronger.” NCORR is funded through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, the State Disaster Recovery Acts of 2017 and 2018, and the Storm Recovery Act of 2019. For RISE,  NCCOR provides technical assistance to regional partnerships.

The NC Rural Center serves North Carolina’s rural counties and works to “develop, promote, and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians.” For RISE, the NC Rural Center “oversees leadership development and regional coaching and facilitation components.” 

NCOOR and the NC Rural Center created RISE with the acknowledgment that storm impacts are not equitably distributed among residents as some communities are situated in more vulnerable locations. The program states that building climate resilience means that all North Carolina residents “have access to opportunities and capabilities that enable healthy and secure lives.” RISE’s work is guided by the belief “that everyone should have the same degree of environmental protection and equal access to the decision-making process of this program.” Thus, the program emphasizes stakeholder engagement and community input to drive this work. 

The program’s goals include:

  1. Providing coaching and technical assistance to regional partners to support community vulnerability assessments, identify priority actions to reduce risk and enhance resilience in their region, and develop paths to implementation;
  2. Developing the North Carolina Resilient Communities Guide as a statewide resource that provides tools, guidance, and opportunities for building community resiliency; and
  3. Hosting regional leadership training workshops that emphasize resilience as a tool for community economic development.

Through the RISE program, the state aims to provide the necessary tools to communities so they can bolster their resilience practices and support existing planning and development. In addition, the state intends to make sure that the benefits of the program are equitably distributed among communities in eastern North Carolina and beyond. 

One initiative that supports RISE’s third goal is Homegrown Leaders, a leadership and economic development training program created by the NC Rural Center. The goal of the Homegrown Leaders program is to build regional collaboration among community leaders. The program teaches participants the necessary skills for creating resiliency and long-term economic development in their communities. Homegrown Leaders’ stated objectives include: 

  • Gaining an understanding of the importance of resiliency and a regional lens for both building long-term solutions to common problems and innovative opportunities for growth. 
  • Learning and applying skills needed to address current and emerging critical issues and economic trends that will impact the future of their communities and regions:
    • Economic development: Participating in an in-depth examination of the building blocks of community economic development; receive an analysis of current data and regional economic trends; and take part in an exploration of critical local/regional economic development issues and opportunities.
    • Leadership development: Learning collaborative leadership skills; explore emotional intelligence; and learn strategies for working with others and leading in difficult conversations.
    • Economic impact of racial inequity: Engaging in an analysis of the historical impact of social structures and power relationships on specific economic issues, social conditions, and marginalized populations; and participate in an in-depth conversation on how rural community leaders can eliminate barriers and expand opportunity for the future economic well-being of all rural North Carolinians and their communities.
  • Building relationships by networking with other leaders from the region.

As of 2021, the NC Rural Center has conducted three Homegrown Leaders workshops and two more are scheduled for Spring/Summer 2022. These workshops demonstrate how to effectively build regional networks that can support resiliency efforts. 

RISE highlights the benefits of scaling up resiliency efforts in underresourced communities. States can leverage resources at a regional scale when fostering resilience and economic development in smaller, individual communities alone is insufficient. Designing resilience strategies at a regional scale can allow policymakers to help communities overcome or mitigate resource and financial challenges. 

Working at the regional level is important for rural areas because often there is not enough funding or capacity at the local level, which only increases economic disparities between rural and urban areas. RISE’s efforts through Homegrown Leaders will build local capacity and regional connections that promote collaboration on these issues. These programs exemplify how to educate community leaders, what topics are important to discuss, and how to create regional networks as community members work towards building economic development that encompasses environmental resilience.

Further, RISE is an ongoing example of a holistic regional approach to developing resilience in a rural area. Economic development is a key piece of pursuing resilience and planning for rural regions should be assessed through that lens. The program also illustrates the importance of educating communities about historical racial inequity and its impact on equitable economic development. Achieving equity is not only an issue for urban or suburban areas, but also in rural areas. Both economic development and equity are interconnected and necessary to achieve meaningful and effective communitywide resilience.  

In addition to NCORR and the NC Rural Center, RISE works with other partners including nonprofit and government entities. This cross-sector collaboration brings together many different types of backgrounds and expertise to produce the most effective kinds of resources for communities. 

The state is helping to fund the RISE program. This type of state backing is critical at the local level. 

Lastly, RISE demonstrates how important state support is to execute these types of community-driven programs. State collaboration with local organizations can result in more effective work since local organizations have specialized knowledge about the community. State engagement and support also bolsters community confidence in their state government. Importantly, when a state allocates funds and efforts to rural communities, it represents that state’s acknowledgment that those communities matter and are not left out of legal, planning, and policy conversations.


Publication Date: May 19, 2022

Related Organizations:

  • North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency
  • Duke Energy Foundation

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  • Planning guides

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