New cash crops from old seed

A look at where Golden LEAF has invested $450 million from the tobacco settlement to grow the state economy

With a multibillion-dollar budget hole to fill, it’s no wonder that state lawmakers have looked past traditional sources of income. Some have hatched plans to siphon money from The Golden LEAF Inc., the Rocky Mount nonprofit set up by legislators to disburse half the state’s proceeds from a 1998 settlement between tobacco companies and 46 states. Its assets of roughly $600 million, fueled by payments of about $70 million a year, lend muscle to its mission: help economically distressed or tobacco-dependent counties. Between December 2000 and early March, it awarded 972 grants totaling $450 million. Lenoir got more money than any other county, much of it from a $100 million grant to build an airplane-parts factory. Wake County, home of N.C. State University, came in second. Some grants have been controversial. But Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach says that’s bound to happen when funding so many projects and that now is no time to divert money for short-term fixes. “The only way to solve our fiscal problem is to grow the economy because you can’t cut or tax your way out of this.”

Click here for a PDF of the Golden Leaf graphic spread.