Catawba County June 2022

Population
159,621

County Seat
Newton

Median Income
$52,056

Population Density Designation
Regional City / Suburban

Our visit to Catawba County opened at the ValleySim Hospital on the campus of Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC). ValleySim is the largest simulated hospital east of the Mississippi River according to Ray Combs, the manager of the hospital, and it serves as both a hub for high-powered medical training and even the filming of movies and television shows!

We proceeded to the Workforce Solutions Center across the campus of CVCC. The Solutions Center is a multi-million dollar building housing advanced manufacturing and tech-centered education and training programs, community gathering spaces and even garage bays for CVCC’s automotive technology program.

Dr. Robin Ross, Vice President, K-64/Talent Development, CVCC, also used the backdrop of the Workforce Solutions Center to explain the K-64 program — a countywide initiative focused on preparing residents to compete in a global economy while remaining residents and employees in Catawba County. According to Ross, the secret sauce of K-64 could be defined as, “Bringing together education, business and government to connect people of all ages with the skills needed to fill jobs and build careers in Catawba County.”

The spirit of collaboration between government, private industry and resource expertise continued as we drove down Highway 321 to the Manufacturing Solutions Center in Newton-Conover. According to the Manufacturing Solutions Center, its mission, “is to help US manufacturers increase sales, improve quality and improve efficiency to create or retain jobs.”

Our visit to the Manufacturing Solutions Center began with a tour of the complex. We saw several products that were being tested by manufacturers on a range of challenges that the products might encounter once produced. We also had a chance to meet with several entrepreneurs who were incubating their manufacturing companies within the Center. According to the entrepreneurs, a significant competitive advantage comes from the spirit of collaboration amongst the incubator companies, the expertise of the staff of the Center, and the Center’s location in a region that is rich with textile companies, talent and history.

We had meaningful conversations over lunch from Fresh Cafe — a restaurant located steps from the Center that promises healthy meals for its customers.

Nathan Huret, Director of Existing Industry Services for Catawba County’s Economic Development Corporation, discussed the shifting tides of the economy for the county and region. According to Huret, twenty years ago the region was discussed as a “model for economic stability” by national experts for a three-pronged economy built around furniture, textiles and fiber optics. Within a handful of years, all three industries were hit hard by a range of global economic factors.

“Our county went from a model of economic stability to one that needed to be reinvented overnight,” noted Huret.

Catawba County leaned in on its strengths — including proximity to the Charlotte metro area: southern Catawba County sits 45 minutes from the Charlotte airport and the growing, prosperous region around Charlotte. County leaders also knew they could lean in on generational knowledge and assets from local industry.

Their model also relied on diversifying and growing hometown talent through the efforts of the community college, the K-64 program, initiatives like the Manufacturing Solutions Center and CVCC’s Furniture Academy that brought industry and education together─ and ultimately deciding to “reinvest even when it was hard to do so,” according to Huret.

Catawba County has made significant strides in diversifying its economy, broadening opportunities for residents and providing fertile ground for companies to grow according to the assembled community members.

U39702, 8/22