The NCWorks Local Innovation Fund is supporting efforts by communities across North Carolina to meet workforce challenges through a competitive grant process.

As part of Governor Roy Cooper’s NC Job Ready initiative, the fund is financing grants to communities to pilot innovative programs or adapt and replicate successful program models that address local or regional workforce issues.

The fund supports projects that do one or more of the following:

  • Address an underserved community or population currently disconnected from the education and workforce system;
  • Bring together diverse community organizations;
  • Increase educational attainment;
  • Address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our workforce; and/or
  • Develop talent pipelines for in-demand and/or high-wage occupations.

To be eligible for grants, community teams must consist of partnerships of multiple organizations that will actively support the work of the grant. Each partnership must include the local area Workforce Development Board (WDB) as the lead agency, as well as education, community, labor, and business leaders.

In 2023, the Local Innovation Fund awarded two grants of up to $225,000 each, lasting for a period of two years and assisting communities that already have a collaborative team, an innovative idea, and the local support needed to be successful. Grant teams will benefit from technical assistance during the grant period. 

In 2024, the Fund is scheduled to award one grant of up to $125,000, specifically related to reentry efforts.

The Local Innovation Fund is an initiative of the NCWorks Commission, while the Division of Workforce Solutions within the N.C. Department of Commerce helps administer the fund. The 37-member NCWorks Commission includes representatives from the business community, heads of state workforce agencies, educators and community leaders. The Commission, which is designated as the state’s Workforce Development Board under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, recommends policies and strategies to enable the state’s workforce and businesses to compete in the global economy.

Application

Webinar

The NCWorks Commission will hold a webinar to provide more information to people interested in submitting grant applications, on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM, using the Microsoft Teams conferencing platform. To request a link to the webinar, send an email to ncworks_webinars@commerce.nc.gov before Wed., May 29, 2024. Include your name, organization, and contact information. 

Funding Source

For 2023 Grants: This is a WIOA Title I program/project, which is supported by the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor as part of an award to North Carolina totaling $66,717,353, with 0% financed from non-governmental sources.

For 2024 Grant: The source of funding for the newest Local Innovation grant is the State Fiscal Recovery Fund (SFRF), a component of the federal American Rescue Plan Act which provided $5.4 billion to North Carolina to help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout, and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery.

2023 Grantees

Implementation Grants 

  • Building Hope - Preparing Gender Minorities for Careers in Construction (Chatham, Orange and Wake counties): This grant will help address both a critical need for workers in the construction industry and gender pay disparities by increasing the number of women trained in various skilled trades. A Chapel Hill-based nonprofit organization, Hope Renovations, provides pre-apprenticeship training in construction trades, case management to help resolve employment barriers like child care, internships and additional coaching services to help women succeed on the job. This grant will allow Hope Renovations to expand services beyond Orange County and support the training of approximately 40 participants. Partners include Capital Area Workforce Development Board, Hope Renovations and Wake Technical Community College.
  • OPT-IN and J.E.T.: Creating Opportunities for Opportunity Youth (Burke County): This grant will support “opportunity youth” (those who are currently neither in the labor force nor in school) and help meet Burke County’s workforce needs by expanding the “OPT-IN” (Opportunity Internship) program and launching the “Jobs, Education, and Training” (J.E.T.) program. OPT-IN serves recent high school graduates by matching them with local employers for an eight-week, paid exploratory internship. Participants also receive mentoring and professional development classes. Similarly, J.E.T. can serve any opportunity youth between the ages of 18-24, connecting them to local companies offering family-sustaining wages, while providing mentoring and professional development. Both programs will focus outreach on communities of color. Partners include Western Piedmont Workforce Development Board, The Industrial Commons and its affiliate program “Work in Burke,” Burke Development, Inc., Western Piedmont Community College, Burke County Public Schools, NCWorks Career Center - Burke County, N.C. Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Meridian Specialty Yarn Group, Inc.

2019 Grantees

Capacity Grants

  • Wilkes County Partnership/Rural Transportation: This grant supported the development of a research study and action plan for improving workforce transportation in the area. Partners include Wilkes Community College (project lead), High Country Workforce Development Board, North Carolina Division of Workforce Solutions, the NCWorks Career Center in Wilkes County, North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Goodwill Industries, Wilkes Economic Development Corporation, Wilkes County Department of Social Services and the North Wilkesboro Housing Authority.
  • Region Q Collaborative Strategic Plan (Beaufort, Bertie, Hertford, Martin and Pitt counties): This grant supported the development of a strategic plan related to implementation of the Region Q Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), fostering improved communication and understanding of the region’s assets. One of the four goals of the CEDS is to develop a workforce with 21st-century skills. Partners include the Rivers East (formerly known as Region Q) Workforce Development Board (project lead), Mid-East Commission, Beaufort, Bertie, Hertford, Martin and Pitt County governments, Beaufort County Economic Development, Bertie County Economic and Industrial Planning and Development Commission, Martin County Economic Development, Pitt County Development Commission, NCEast Alliance, Beaufort County Community College, Martin Community College, Pitt Community College and Roanoke‐Chowan Community College.
  • “Good Jobs Charlotte” - Comprehensive Workforce and Education Data Project (Mecklenburg County): This grant supported a project to use data collaboratively in order to rapidly advance a vision for the ongoing role of the educational continuum in achieving economic mobility across the community. Partners include Central Piedmont Community College (project lead), Charlotte Works, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Implementation Grants 

  • Pathways to Purpose (Brunswick County): This grant supported a program to train construction and repair workers, particularly to fix damage from Hurricane Florence. The project overhauls the traditional approach to delivering instruction, managing retention and awarding workforce credentials in order to keep pace with the demand on the area’s construction industry. Participants have included people who are veterans, homeless, justice-involved, in recovery from substance abuse, single parents and the underemployed/unemployed. Partners include Brunswick Community College (project lead), Cape Fear Workforce Development Board, Brunswick Transit System, Countywide Community Development Corporation, Brunswick County Sheriff’s Department/Detention Center, Brunswick County Career Center, Waccamaw Volunteer Fire Department and Sunset Beach Fire Department.
  • RE-Build your Future (Rowan and Cabarrus counties): This grant supported a project to provide post-secondary training to justice-involved individuals to work in the light construction industry. Training has included Construction Trades Certification and Class B CDL certification. The program has also developed an employer education campaign with the goal of increasing the number of “second-chance” employers in the region. Partners include Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (project lead), Centralina Workforce Development Board, the NCWorks Career Center in Cabarrus County, the North Carolina Department of Commerce Reentry Initiative, Cooperative Christian Ministries, Rowan Helping Ministries and the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office.
  • WNC Early Childhood Workforce Development Program (Buncombe, Madison, Henderson and Transylvania counties): This grant supported the expansion of a program that started in Buncombe County to train more early childhood educators. The program has addressed the shortage of early childhood teachers by recruiting candidates in under-resourced communities and providing them with training, substitute placement and coaching.  Partners include the Buncombe County Partnership for Children, Inc. (project lead), Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, Smart Start of Transylvania County, Children & Family Resource Center of Henderson County, Smart Start Partnership for Children of Henderson County, Madison County Partnership for Children and Families, and Community Action Opportunities, Inc.