Buncombe County August 2021

Population
262,659

County Seat
Asheville

Median Income
$52,207

Population Density Designation
Regional City/Suburban

Our visit to Buncombe County centered on regional collaborations that are tackling workforce development, boosting educational attainment and social mobility, and improving the quality of health in the region. We started the day with a tour of Asheville-Buncombe Tech’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, led by A-B Tech President Dr. John Gossett, who emphasized the role of community colleges in connecting students to the workforce.

Short-term training offerings at A-B Tech lead directly to full-time jobs with benefits and good pay in the advanced manufacturing sector. The college’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, newly revamped with more than $3 million in high-tech training equipment, is helping graduates quickly join global manufacturers with a local presence in the region.

After the tour, our team had lunch at A-B Tech with leaders from Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC), Dogwood Health Trust, and Biltmore Farms, discussing efforts to address social determinants of health in western NC. These social factors, which include metrics such as zip code, income level, and access to healthy food and transportation, show a significant impact on the 40% of North Carolinians who live in rural counties – roughly 4 million people.

“I think it’s becoming more clear to us.” said Dr. Tunde Sotunde, President and CEO of Blue Cross NC. “Over the years we’ve talked about disparities, but these non-medical drivers of health are critical if you truly want to drive towards better overall health and well-being.”

Right now it seems that one of the main challenges is not a lack of data about issues facing the region, but rather how to put that data into practice to transform lives.

“In addition to understanding what’s going on in the community, we’ve got to make it actionable,” said Angela Boykin, VP of Government Operations and Chief Compliance Officer for Healthy Blue.

To round out the day, we met with Asheville-Buncombe Schools Associate Superintendent Susanne Swanger about the implementation of the MATCH Wellness program. This interdisciplinary approach to wellness empowers adolescents to make healthy choices focused on nutrition education and increasing physical activity. Funded by Healthy Blue, the recently expanded program is having a positive impact on the community.

With thanks to contributor Alli Lindenberg

The Community in Action

Meet Dr. John Gossett

Dr. John D. Gossett has served as the President of Asheville-Buncombe Tech Community College since 2020. Prior to this role, he was President of McDowell Technical Community College in Marion.  Dr. Gossett holds a BS in Marketing from the University of Tennessee, an MBA from Appalachian State University, and an Ed.D. in Adult and Community College Education from NC State University.

U39702, 10/21