Alexander County June 2022


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

Alexander County sits in the Foothills region of our state, and the Brushy Mountains offered a scenic view as we drove through the county heading for the Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) Alexander Center for Education.

The Alexander Center holds several programs — but our visit focused on the Alexander Furniture Academy. Alexander County is part of the broader Unifour region that includes Caldwell, Catawba and Buke County. The Unifour region has a rich history in both textiles and furniture. For decades, some of the largest furniture companies in the southeastern United States had a significant presence across the region. As the global economic trends presented challenges for American-based manufacturing, many of these companies reduced headcount or closed factories outright. Decades later, companies in North Carolina (and elsewhere) are expanding again, and they need homegrown talent according to community leaders we met with that day.

Enter CVCC. The college has a furniture academy in both Alexander and Catawba County. The furniture academy grew out of industry need and industry collaboration according to Jennifer Jones, the Executive Director of the Catawba Valley Community College Foundation, and Roy Bearden, the Senior Vice President of Manufacturing for local furniture company Craftmaster.

Asked about the Academy bringing together competitors to both build out the programming and engender support for the work, Bearden noted, “We’re all competing for customers. We all want to grow our business. But we also all need talented, hardworking employees here in order to grow. So, yes, we compete — but with the Academy, we have to work together to ensure the success of the work.”

Elen Gibs, Director of Student Services for the Alexander Center, laughed as she told our team the best testament to the success of the Furniture Academy to date is that an industry partner like Bearden and Craftmaster can promote their work. Gibs told us, “One sign of our success to date is that Roy tells our story just as passionately as if he worked for us.”

The staff and instructors from the Academy are often drawn from the furniture industry — as are the supplies that students use while they are learning to build furniture. Bearden showed us several leather chairs that students were about to begin work on — and all of them were comprised of materials from Craftmaster’s plants.

Another interesting aspect of the Academy’s work is their showroom. Local customers (or anyone really!) can visit the showroom to purchase furniture produced by students at the Academy.

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 12/22