Governor Cooper’s rural initiative, Hometown Strong, convenes state and local leaders to discuss local priorities and identify existing state resources to support them. All 80 of North Carolina’s rural counties and their communities are now Hometown Strong partners and may call on Hometown Strong for help whenever they need it. These relationships affirm that individual leadership is key to creating a vibrant community where people live lives of purpose and abundance. The Rural Leadership Award honors such instances of community contribution.
Creation of Award
On November 19, 2019, the Rural Leadership Award was created to recognize and elevate the contributions of individuals to small towns and rural communities across North Carolina. An individual considered for recognition must meet three criteria.
- Long-Standing Commitment to Rural Endeavors – more than 10 years of experience in supporting activities occurring in North Carolina’s rural areas
- Positive Impact on Rural Life – significant and sustaining improvements in the lives of people living in North Carolina’s rural communities
- Exemplary Character that Inspires North Carolinians – a public figure that champions rural causes with integrity and credibility
Award nominations were coordinated by a small committee with representatives from the Governor’s Office, Hometown Strong, the NC Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources, the NC Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the NC Farm Bureau, and the NC Rural Center. The committee worked informally and continued to consider nominations until a consensus candidate emerged.
In November 2019, Governor Cooper and Commissioner Troxler named the award after and presented it to Larry Wooten, longtime executive director of the NC Farm Bureau, for his advocacy and efforts to strengthen NC agriculture, farmers, agribusiness, and rural communities and economies. The event was held at the Executive Mansion with a guest list of approximately 80 attendees.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the annual cycle, and no award was given that year.
In November 2021, Governor Cooper and Commissioner Troxler presented the award to Mr. Curtis Wynn, president and CEO of Roanoke Electric Cooperative, for his transformative leadership in bringing broadband connectivity to rural communities, raising more than $10 million to support economic development projects, and encouraging wealth creation through land ownership and sustainable land management. The event was again held at the Executive Mansion, but to observe COVID-19 protocols, it was held outdoors in the garden area with a limited guest list of 30.
In 2022, the coinciding of elections with the November timeframe required a postponement until 2023.