Cherokee County October 2022


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

The old North Carolina adage of “Murphy to Manteo” came true for the Blue Cross NC team as we entered Cherokee County. Murphy, the county seat for Cherokee, has a population of just over 1,800 residents,1 and it is closer to the state capitals of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee than it is to the capital of North Carolina.

Murphy also sits more than two hours away from Asheville.

Tri-County Community College (Tri-County) president Donna Tipton-Rogers laughed as she told us, “Welcome to the far, far west.”

Tri-County serves Cherokee, Clay and Graham counties. We first met the Tri-County team in the small town of Brasstown at a local restaurant called The Crown. Over the course of the conversation, the team discussed their work across all three counties by pointing to their ability to meet ongoing economic development needs that vary by county.

Outdoor recreation and the outdoor economy are both significant economic drivers — particularly with significant growth in the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic encouraged individuals to get outside, and this has presented a boon for businesses in southwestern North Carolina.

“Tri-County Community College has been here since 1964. We work hard every single day to help our students succeed,” continued Tipton-Rogers. “And helping our students succeed means that we are also helping our communities succeed.”

Meeting various community needs has ranged from providing blackjack dealers for the local Harrah’s Casino in Murphy to assisting with entrepreneurial efforts through their small business center. The Crown restaurant was one example of a small business center client that launched with the full support of the center.

Paul Worley, Executive Director for Workforce & Government Relations for the college, pointed out in conversation that the mountains of North Carolina have different workforce and economic development needs than many other regions. For one, they do not have the large-scale land that is needed for an economic development mega-site. This requires the college and other agencies to focus both on entrepreneurship and supporting the growth of existing businesses in the region.

On a beautiful fall evening in Murphy, the “far west” of North Carolina (as Tipton-Rogers labeled it) was a wonderful host for Blue Cross NC as community conversations provided us with context for the region’s needs and assets.

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.

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U39702, 1/23