Caldwell County June 2022

Population
83,811

County Seat
Lenoir

Median Income
$44,511

Population Density Designation
Rural

Our visit to Caldwell County began at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute (CCC&TI) where President Mark Poarch had convened community leaders including Caldwell County Economic Development Director Deborah Murray, Caldwell UNC Health Care president and CEO Laura Easton, and Caldwell County Schools Assistant Superintendent Katrina McEllen.

Murray opened by sharing, “Caldwell County was long a ‘single-engine’ economy focused on textiles and furniture.” Murray also spoke of the global economic trends that began to impact Caldwell County beginning the late 90’s — and accelerated in 2002. From 2002 to 2010, Caldwell County lost 10,000 jobs.

In the face of those challenges, Murray noted that the county established clear priorities that they have executed against to lay the groundwork for a brighter future. County leaders decided to focus on investing in the value of education across the entire continuum from early childhood through post-secondary — while also focusing on recruiting and supporting industries that would raise the median wage county-wide. The county had also been left with vacant manufacturing spaces they knew that they could repurpose — and examples of the repurposing abound across the county, including pharmaceutical company Exela taking over space that belonged to a furniture manufacturer.

According to Murray, CCC&TI played a valuable role in the renewal efforts due to being “nimble and responsive.” She noted that if the economic development pitch needed a customized training program, or a new associate degree or credential offering, the college would work to produce it.

The county today has a growing and thriving biotech and pharmaceutical cluster that is building social mobility and creating opportunities for residents.

Laura Easton and Mark Poarch also discussed the importance of the collaboration between the community college and the local healthcare system. According to Easton, the two institutions are working hand-in-hand to grow the local healthcare workforce — both in headcount and capabilities — to deal with an aging population.

Easton and Poarch spoke of promising results while also pointing to the challenges of workforce burnout due to the demands of COVID-19, the “grey-out” that comes with an aging workforce and other issues. Poarch, in particular, noted the challenge for community colleges to recruit talented staff to train the healthcare workers needed in the region.

Other challenges for the county include housing. Murray noted that the county has aging housing stock with less than three percent of current homes having been built since 2000. Murray went on to say, “Housing will be our largest challenge until more single-family homes, apartments and townhomes are built.”

Despite the challenges, the county leaders are thrilled about the opportunities ahead for the region. The college showcased the ways they are working to take advantage of the opportunities during a tour of their new pharmaceutical classrooms, a one-of-a-kind indoor electrical line worker training facility, and a soon-to-come health sciences building that will bring all the college’s healthcare courses together in one space.

“I grew up and raised a family here. I am proud to lead my hometown college — and even prouder to see where this county is heading with our support,” said Poarch.

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, 8/22