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By DAVE HARDIN, Public Information Officer

What do you think of when the word "innovative" come to mind? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says it means "introducing or using new ideas or methods" or "having new ideas about how something can be done". Synonyms include "original", "new", "novel", "ground breaking" and "modern."

Do you think of Catawba County or the State of North Carolina as innovative? You should consider this because, in just the last few weeks, Catawba County has been recognized twice for innovative programs and thinking, and one of the nation's foremost newspapers has ranked the state among the most innovative.

The Catawba County Public Health Farmers Market, designed to improve community health by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables with a focus on Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program recipients has received this year's highest honor for innovation in local government from The Innovations Group. It was selected from among more than 80 submissions from accross the United States.

In partnership with the WIC program, the Farmers Market's goal is to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables while also providing a new outlet for locally grown produce.  WIC clients receive Farmers Market Nutritional Program vouchers when available to supplement their WIC food benefits with fresh, local produce during the summer months. Following the market's second season in 2014, the Catawba County WIC program had the highest voucher redemption rate in all of North Carolina at 64.37%.

Also, Catawba County is one of only eleven local governments in the United States named to the Innovation Academy Class of 2015. Catawba joined with local governments such as Decatur, Georgia; Aspen, Colorado; Mankato, Minnesota; and Adams County, Colorado, which extends just to the north and east of Denver. The Academy is described as a virtual curriculum designed to strengthen the culture of innovation in these organizations and simultaneously develop an innovative project in each community.

The cities and counties in the Academy worked to understand the innovation process and how to integrate it into their organizations, build cross-functional teams with the capacity to address organizational and community issues, expand their capacity for ongoing innovation, learn about organization culture and how to cultivate leadership and undertake a new project that will benefit the organization and/or address a community issue.

I'll share more about Catawba County's project once it goes into operation in the weeks to come.

Finally, the Washington Post ranked North Carolina as the fourth most innovative state in the U.S. in its April 15 edition. It said the states scoring highest in the ranking are, "proven leaders in fostering legislative and regulatory climates conducive to innovation".

Catawba Valley Community College's partnership with the Kauffman Foundation to create Innovation Fund America was mentioned in the Washington Post article. The Innovation Fund website says it's seeking to connect start-up businesses with "the resources necessary to become thriving businesses. Innovation Fund North Carolina seeks to improve the odds of promising technologies turning into great companies that are led by extraordinary entrepreneurs."

Catawba County has a growing reputation for innovation. The national notice is a big boost to existing local efforts in economic development.


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