Cleveland County August 2022

Population
100,071

County Seat
Shelby

Median Income
$42,247

Population Density Designation
Rural

Our visit to Cleveland County began on the campus of Cleveland Community College (CCC) in Shelby. The county sits just west of Charlotte, and the growth of the Charlotte metropolitan area has begun to have an impact on the county in recent years according to Brian Epley, the County Manager for Cleveland County.

“We are becoming a community that people actively choose to live in — and becoming a community of choice creates many positive impacts,” noted Epley during his opening remarks.

Epley described how Cleveland County was once a heavily textile-focused area that endured the same economic decline many other communities suffered when the textile industry began to cut jobs and move operations to other countries across the world.

Building a focused strategy for the county was the key according to the community leaders we met throughout our time in Cleveland. Epley described their approach succinctly, “In a world with so many things to work on, we knew we had to align the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of our work.”

The emphasis for the county included zeroing in on supporting entrepreneurial efforts, combating substance use, increasing walkability and movability overall in support of the overall health of their residents, supporting collaborative efforts county-wide and continuing to identify areas with high needs.

Today Cleveland County has arrested its population decline, begun to build a more diverse economy and launched a focus on boosting overall public health across the county. Epley cautioned that despite the broad positives, they know they must continue to zero in on areas of disparity amongst their residents. One challenge moving forward is to make sure that job creation efforts are spread evenly across all income levels in an effort to bolster social mobility. Another is to continue to improve public health as a whole, given that their statewide health rankings remain relatively stagnant.

“We must move the needle on poverty and educational attainment. Those two interrelated issues are critically important to the future of this county,” declared Epley.

Kevin Gordon, the Chair of the Cleveland County Commissioners, echoed Epley when he noted that the county as a whole “must improve the quality of life for all of our residents.” Gordon pointed out the county has a child poverty rate of over 30%, and public health remains a concern given a 37% obesity rate amongst adults in the county.

One key to the overall strategy according to the leaders assembled is the success of the community college. CCC president Jason Hurst agreed, stating that Cleveland is “the community’s college,” and this mission requires them to be nimble in response to the emerging needs of all of the residents and businesses in their service area.

CCC’s vision is to be the premier public higher education entity for all of the residents of their service area. This aligns with their mission to drive student success and economic impact alike.

This mission and vision have been realized over the last number of years with a rebrand that told residents of the county to “come see for yourself” what the college was doing. They’ve launched an alumni association, invested in athletics, hired both a recruiter and a community engagement coordinator to engage at the neighborhood level, broken ground on several new buildings and launched new programs.

The proof is in the enrollment numbers according to Hurst, who noted they are looking at a nearly 20% increase in students enrolled this fall. The next step for the college will be additional programs focused on industry and community needs including truck driving, community health efforts and more.

Our visit to Cleveland County concluded with a tour of the college’s new Advanced Technology Center and their Basic Law Enforcement Training Lab. We also experienced a surprise when we emerged from one building to a plane on fire in the parking lot. After a brief moment of shock, we saw the CCC fire truck emerge over the hill to extinguish the flames of their simulated burn. Hurst noted the college’s investments included high-end simulation equipment such as the plane, the fire truck and other items that allow their students to gain hands-on knowledge before a crisis hits.

As community leaders strategically focus on improving life in Cleveland County, and with a partner like the Cleveland Community College, the county is well positioned to prepare itself and its residents for a reimagined, successful future.

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, 10/22