Strategic Plan and Vision | NC Cooperative Extension Service

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In This Section

Vision & Strategic Plan
Director’s Message
Core Program Areas
Optimized Service Access
County Staffing Structure
Positive Transformations
Background & Process
Fact Sheets & Handouts
Leadership | Contact


Our Vision for the Future

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at N.C. State University has completed a strategic plan that will target our strengths, improve access to services across the state and refocus resources to support our refined core areas and meet client needs. Dr. Joe Zublena, director of the Extension Service at N.C. State, presented the plan to Extension employees across the state via a webinar on August 12, 2014.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service’s strategic plan and vision ignites a renewed organizational focus, invests in essential resources and creates an unprecedented level of service and access across the state to create economic, societal and intellectual prosperity for North Carolinians.

An essential objective throughout the process was to ensure that the public continues to receive trusted, research-based knowledge that helps them make better-informed decisions and improve their lives. We’ve served North Carolina for 100 years, and we plan to do it for another century!

Key objectives of the plan include:

  • Identify & focus on our core program areas
  • Build High Tech, remain High Touch
  • Bolster communications & branding
  • Strengthen capacity & collaboration
  • Enhance staff retention & expertise
  • Optimize staffing & service access across the state

We will implement our strategic plan throughout a 22-month
transition period from August 2014 through July 2016.
Dr. Zublena Shares the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service Strategic Plan

View the Strategic Plan Handout (1-Pager)

View the Strategic Plan Announcement News Story (8/12/14)
(Download the News Release)

Download a Strategic Plan Timeline Summary (as of 8/12/14)

VIDEO: Dr. Zublena discusses the strategic plan and the Extension Service’s future on UNC-TV’s North Carolina NOW program (8/28/14)


Director’s Message:

“The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service has a long, proud tradition of serving the citizens and communities of North Carolina. We have offices in every county and the Eastern Band of Cherokee, we live and raise families in every community, and we empower people and provide solutions across the state.

Extension celebrated 100 years of service this year, reflecting on our significant achievements, the difference we’ve made and the people who’ve changed the lives of North Carolinians. Celebrating the centennial of one of the nation’s premier Extension organizations presented a unique opportunity not only to recognize our historical impacts, but also to evaluate our operations and envision long-term goals to improve how we serve our clients.

Joe ZublenaThis strategic plan and vision is an initiative of N.C. State University. It does not reflect organizational changes on the part of N.C. A&T State University. We strongly value our relationship with N.C. A&T over the years, and we will continue as a strategic partnership to provide stellar service.

We are positioning Extension at N.C. State for long-term sustainability so we can provide more and better solutions in our core program areas to improve the lives, land and economy of North Carolinians. Budget cuts created challenges, but they also presented opportunities and incentives to better ourselves for our clients. Our plan was overwhelmingly driven by positive opportunities, and the results will benefit millions across the state.

We asked questions, engaged employees and stakeholders, and poured over data for 10 months to ensure that Extension will continue to create economic, societal and intellectual prosperity for the people of North Carolina for years to come. From this endeavor we crafted a vision for our future, and we’re excited, proud and confident with what lies ahead.

The next phase of our journey starts now. Together we move forward!

Joe Zublena
Joe Zublena_NC Cooperative Extension Service
Director, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service
North Carolina State University
We want to give a special thanks to the Visioning Committee for their invaluable expertise and dedication throughout this process! Together we’ve laid the groundwork for another century of success and service to the people of North Carolina.

We also would like to acknowledge FountainWorks, a Raleigh-based management and facilitation consulting firm, who provided professional guidance throughout this intensive planning process.

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Core Program Areas

Extension Service Core Program Areas graphic

We are focusing our resources where we are most needed, best equipped to provide solutions and can make the greatest impacts on the state’s communities and economy: Agriculture, Food & 4-H Youth Development.

Each Core Program Area will include multiple programs and services of value.

The following list is not all-inclusive.
Extension Service Core Area sub-program examples

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Optimized Service Access

Going forward with the partnerships we’ve forged with local governments and N.C. A&T:

  1. Maintain our presence in each of our 101 local centers (every county + Eastern Band of Cherokee).
  2. Create a support system of expertise to provide solutions and exceed client needs.
  3. Better align our resources, address staffing gaps and create more equitable service access across N.C. to support our core and exceed client needs.

NC State Extension_equitable service

Incorporate 15 Additional Area Specialized Agent Positions
These are in addition to the current area specialized agents.
15 Additional Area Specialized Agent Positions chart_NC State Extension

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County Staffing Structure

Each of our 101 local centers will now be offered the same base staffing model, including agents in Agriculture, 4-H and Family & Consumer Sciences (FCS), as well as a support specialist. One of the base programmatic positions will also serve as County Extension Director.

Additional Agriculture agents will be strategically distributed throughout the state where most needed based on county statistics, including:

  1. Number of farm operators (50%)
  2. Population (20%)
  3. Agriculture cash receipts (30%)
Additional Ag agents formula chart

Click image to enlarge.

We are seeking an equal funding match from local governments on base positions (1/2 on single-county positions, 1/3 on two-county positions, etc.).

Counties can also collaborate to pool resources and share positions. We’ve built in planned flexibility to help meet local needs and ensure additional coverage where needed.

At present, some counties are without a base level of access to Extension through agents because of funding reductions over time. The new plan will address this issue at a local level, as well as add regional expertise through area agents specialized in commodities and specific issues to which Extension can bring expertise.

NC State Extension Service Master Gardener volunteers in Durham

Volunteer-driven programs like Extension Master Gardener will continue to be an integral part of Extension for many years to come. In 2013, more than 40,000 volunteers contributed over 870,000 hours to Extension. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.

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Positive Transformations


We’re investing in technology and creating web-based resources, while maintaining personal service and client access to our agents and specialists.

This 21st-century approach to education and collaboration will help our people sustain existing relationships and engage new audiences with Extension resources by:

  • Investing in modern technology for agents and specialists to help clients.
  • Providing tools and platforms to improve access to valuable online resources. (Check out Extension’s portals at the bottom of the page.)
  • Supporting development of online Extension courses and interactive publications.
  • Implementing an online registration and event management system.


NC State Extension_Communications-Branding-Social Media

  • Expand communication and branding efforts to increase external awareness and enhance our perception and value throughout the state.
  • The Extension Service has been identified as a sub-brand of N.C. State’s branding initiative, which will create unprecedented opportunities for the organization.
  • Working together with N.C. State and other valued partners, including local governments and N.C. A&T State, we will build a stronger, more effective Extension for our people and clients.


  1. Create integrated Commodity & Issue-based teams that lead program growth, drive research innovation and cultivate stronger relationships to serve our clients better.
    • Made up of Extension specialists, agents, researchers and client representatives.
    • Work together to ensure clients and producers have access to/understanding of all key management options and opportunities.
  2. Continue to build our mutually-beneficial partnerships with N.C. State, local governments, communities, N.C. A&T State and others to create a stronger Extension organization for our clients.
  3. Align research, Extension and client resources to chart the future through a consortium of common benefit.
  4. Affirm and grow our relationships with our volunteers.

Building Blocks

  1. To provide the best solutions for our clients, we will employ and empower the best people.
  2. Bolster employee satisfaction and create growth opportunities that help recruit and retain agents by:
    • Increasing starting salaries,
    • Improving the career ladder, and
    • Optimizing employee onboarding.
  3. Enhance employee expertise by providing dynamic training and the technological tools they need to do their jobs, engage with the organization and be successful.

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Background & Process

Extension Service Funding_Ag Industry infograph

Click image to enlarge.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service has a long, proud tradition of serving the citizens and communities of North Carolina.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of one of the nation’s premier Extension organizations in 2014 provided opportunities to not only recognize our historical accomplishments, but also to evaluate our operations and envision long-term goals to improve how we serve our clients going forward. Enter our Strategic Vision & Planning Initiative.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service embarked on a Strategic Vision and Planning Initiative in September 2013 to help us provide solutions that enrich the lives, land and economy of North Carolinians for many years to come.

NC State Extension Vision Initiative Timeline graphic

Click image to enlarge.


The strategic plan is the culmination of extensive research and discussions, in which we:

  • Consulted with 8 state Extension systems that have undergone change.
  • Held 14 public listening sessions across the state with ~2,000 attendees.
  • Appointed a Visioning Team made up of ~45 Extension employees and stakeholders to assist in crafting the plan for our future.
  • Polled 179 county commissioners/managers to assess their needs.
  • Engaged more than 600 employees at our State Conference in Raleigh.


The strategic plan is the culmination of extensive research and discussions, in which we:

  • “Return to your strengths…” – Focus on Agriculture, Food & 4-H Youth Development.
  • “We value Extension because you’re Knowledgeable, Unbiased and Trusted.”
  • “Enhance staff capacity and expertise…” – Develop stronger connections between county agents and N.C. State Extension specialists.
  • “Invest in High Tech, remain High Touch…” – Create technological tools and web-based resources, but still provide unfettered client access to agents and specialists.
  • “Extension is the best kept secret…” – Strengthen communication and branding so people know who you are and that what you do is important.
NC State Extension_Strategic Plan Word Cloud

Most Common Terms from Our Listening Session Feedback

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at N.C. State University recently completed its strategic planning process (visit the CALS Strategic Plan 2013 page). Many of the college’s goals were directly tied to the great work being done by our Extension professionals here at N.C. State, and our vision supports the CALS plan.

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Dr. Zublena Featured on UNC-TV’s North Carolina NOW (8/28/14)

(View the full episode on UNC-TV’s website.)

Strategic Vision & Planning Initiative: The Future Starts NOW (July 2014)

Focusing on the Present to Create the Future (Feb. 2014)

An Interview with WNC Communities Leadership (Nov. 2013)

CES Launches Strategic Vision & Planning Initiative (Oct. 2013)

Watch “Extension is…” videos from across the state (YouTube playlist).
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Fact Sheets & Handouts

Visit the CALS Strategic Plan 2013 page.

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Extension Leadership

Travis BurkeDr. Travis Burke
Interim Associate Dean, CALS and Interim Director, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service
(919) 515-8436

tom melton_150xDr. Tom Melton
Deputy Director, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, and Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Leader
(919) 515-1569

sheri schwab_150xSheri Schwab
Associate Director, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, and Director of County Operations
(919) 515-1381

Mike YoderDr. Mike Yoder
Associate Director, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, State 4-H/FCS Program Leader
(919) 513-3509

Media Contact

Justin Moore_NC State Extension CommunicationsJustin Moore
Extension Communications
704-785-1851 (cell)

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