Goodwill to build $20M Charlotte campus

Goodwill Industries is unveiling plans Tuesday to build a $20 million “Opportunity Campus” on Wilkinson Boulevard that the agency expects to be one of the most comprehensive job readiness facilities in the Carolinas.

When completed in 2016, the 18.5-acre site will house job training, job placement and job creation enterprises, along with two stores, a cafe, child care facility, a credit union, a distribution center and satellite offices for other nonprofits that help the unemployed.

Goodwill of the Southern Piedmont also intends to relocate its headquarters from Freedom Drive to the campus. In all, the agency expects to relocate seven operations from around the city to the campus, which will be just north of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Most of the money needed to build the 160,000-square-foot facility has been raised, officials said.

The agency started by pledging $12 million of its own money, and $4.5 million more has been collected through donations. A campaign to raise the remaining $3.5 million from community donors kicks off on Tuesday.

Among those who already are backing the project are Bank of America and The Leon Levine Foundation. The Levine Foundation has pledged to match every dollar given through April, up to $1.2 million.

Goodwill CEO Michael Elder expects the campus to serve more than 10,400 people in its first year of operation – an increase of 23 percent over the current number helped at the agency’s career development center on Freedom Drive.

“The segment of Charlotte’s population living in poverty is increasing, and it’s not just impacting these people. It’s impacting the whole community,” Elder said.

“What we’re putting together is not a magic bullet, but it’s creating a new approach to help people with multiple barriers to employment. In the past, Goodwill and other agencies that have workforce training tended to focus on initial placement and not long-term retention and advancement.”

Those barriers include being unemployed for over a year, lacking a high school diploma or GED, having a criminal record or dealing with a chronic medical problem and/or a behavioral issue, he said.

Elder said this is the first time his agency has gone to the public for help in a capital campaign in more than 30 years, when it sought to upgrade its headquarters building. It has been at that Freedom Drive site since 1974.

Goodwill’s announcement comes just days after an Observer analysis revealed 1 in 4 Mecklenburg County residents live in distressed neighborhoods, up from 1 in 10 in 2000. Such areas have at least 20 percent of residents living below the federally established poverty level.

The campus project has already won support from United Way, which is giving $531,000. The Bank of America Charitable Foundation has given $500,000, which Elder said is the largest corporate donation to the project.

Charles Bowman, North Carolina market president for Bank of America, said the bank foundation has a history of helping Goodwill, because they share a mission of workforce training. In the past three years, Bank of America Charitable Foundation has given about $1.5 million to area nonprofits for programs that develop workers.

“We hope this would encourage others to step forward and help,” Bowman said. “What Goodwill is doing is economic development and they have a track record of helping people re-equip themselves for decent paying jobs.”

Goodwill purchased the 18.5-acre site – near the intersection of Wilkinson Boulevard and Newberry Street – in multiple parcels over the past year. The total cost was about $1.7 million, officials said.

Site work will begin in the first quarter of next year, and will take 12 months to finish. The first students will be welcomed to the campus in the middle of 2016, officials said.

The seven other operations being relocated to the campus will be moved in phases, Elder said. Four of those sites are owned by Goodwill and three others are leased. All those owned by the agency, including its 65,000-square-foot headquarters site on Freedom Drive, will likely be put on the market, Elder said.

Letting the leases lapse on the other sites is expected to save the agency about $200,000 annually, he said.

When completed, the new campus will be home to a Goodwill retail store and a “boutique store,” that will feature high-end items that have been donated to the agency. Goodwill currently has 22 retail stories and plans to increase that by eight in the future.