August 13, 2018|By Eric Wuestewald| Community Development
For more than 17 years, the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIFund) has provided the rural regions of Appalachia and the Southeast with loans and business advisory services that entrepreneurs need to thrive. NCIFund’s focus is unique: green businesses that use natural resources wisely while creating jobs and strong local economies. NCIFund helps businesses and nonprofits improve, expand, and create positive and lasting change in communities and environments of the region. In an era of declining rural populations, and disinvestment by banks, governments and foundations, NCIFund’s work is more important than ever. 

NCIFund’s 2017 Impact Report highlights the fund’s successful results in critically underserved Appalachian and Southeast communities. Since 2001, NCIFund has invested $46.8 million in 257 natural resource-based businesses, agricultural enterprises, and nonprofits. Coupled with flexible loans and nearly 20,000 hours of advisory services, this work has led to the creation and retention of 4,500 jobs—all while maintaining low loss rates. NCIFund loans and assistance efforts have helped deliver millions of pounds of locally grown produce and pastured meats to urban markets; reduced waste and energy consumption; provided sustainable access to the outdoors; and helped communities find alternatives to economies long rooted in resource extraction or industries—textiles, tobacco, and furniture—that have been decimated by globalization. 

NCIF 2017 Impact Report Final cover pages 600
The Impact Report highlights several of the entrepreneurs NCIFund has helped lead the way. Born and raised in Mingo County, West Virginia, Jeff Davis worked in coal mines for eight years, eventually seeking other work as employment in the industry declined. Jeff and his family have watched the growing popularity of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails that crisscross abandoned minelands, and saw a business opportunity: a lack of overnight accommodations in their town of Williamson.

Jeff turned to NCIFund for help. With our partner, the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, and funding from a POWER Initiative grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission, we lent Jeff the capital and provided the business coaching he needs to build cabins and launch Sport Outfitters, dedicated to lodging and trail services for the outdoor adventurers coming through his town. Many visitors to the area now spend extra time and money in his community – creating more jobs and sustainable tourism in the region’s coal-impacted communities. 

8 13 18 NCIF Sport Outfitters c Sam Levitan 040618 0995
“Our southern [West Virginia] counties here have been hit hard with the loss of coal jobs. With those jobs gone, we need to save ourselves. With the rich history and outdoor beauty that our state has to offer, I feel that tourism is West Virginia's future.“
- Jeff Davis, Owner, Sport Outfitters, LLC

Jeff and Anita Davis and family. Photo by Sam Levitan.

Tyrone Williams can also testify to NCIFund’s work. Tyrone’s 62-acre timber and crop farm in Halifax County, North Carolina—Fourtee Acres—has been in his family for generations. Though he had run the family farm throughout most of his life, Tyrone realized he needed more assistance to look over the 37 acres of timber on his property. He availed himself of the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Project—a creation of The Conservation Fund and other partners committed to helping farmers of color build wealth—to create a sustainable management plan for his resources. 

NCIFund helped him build the financial acumen that’s just as important to successful farming as agricultural skills and experience. Through our Accounting Assistance Program for Disadvantaged Farmers funded by the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, Tyrone was able to access legal and accounting help needed to maintain his land as a source of wealth for his family, particularly his three sons.

8 13 18 Fourtee acres 360

“The Accounting Assistance program through Natural Capital Investment Fund helped us in our efforts to develop sound financial practices, work with professionals in the financial arena along with our support partners and allow us to continue to work towards our goals of sustainability, succession and wealth building.”
 - Tyrone Williams, owner, Fourtee Acres

Tyrone Williams (second from left) and family. Photo courtesy of the Williams family.

NCIFund’s local economic development work also extends to breweries and cideries, which serve as important economic sparkplugs in many rural communities. Not only do they offer well-paying jobs and marketable products, but breweries and cideries also source local grains and value clean, quality water. Consequently, the breweries we fund are firmly committed to the farming neighbors and environmental sustainability. 

To date, NCIFund has financed more than a dozen local breweries, distilleries, and wineries in small, rural communities. Our loan helped BearWaters Brewing Company relocate their business operations alongside the Pigeon River in downtown Canton, North Carolina, creating a public river access point and a hip venue to enjoy craft beers and help revitalize Canton’s downtown.

8 13 18 BearWaters Brewing Company Canton North Carolina Zhivko Illeieff 04

“NCIFund was willing to take a chance and loan us the money we needed to take our idea to the next level.” 
- Art O’Neill, co-owner, BearWaters Brewing Company

Art O’Neill (left). Photo by Zhivko Illeieff.

NCIFund’s work is far from over. We’re committed to growing our organization, so that our experienced staff can deeply even more focused business advisory services and patient capital so entrepreneurs in region’s underserved communities can grow resilient economies and ecosystems.