Gaston County August 2022

Population
222,704

County Seat
Gastonia

Median Income
$52,835

Population Density Designation
Regional City/ Suburban

Our visit to Gaston County began on the campus at Gaston College. College President John Hauser, community leaders representing Gaston County Schools, Belmont Abbey College, CaroMont Health System and other key community organizations joined us as we discussed the opportunities and challenges for Gaston County.

Gaston College has worked diligently over the last several years to shift its overall strategy predicated on the needs of the industry. Atrium Health and CaroMont Health both serve the Gaston College service area, and the college has engaged those industry partners in extensive conversations around their needs. As a result, Gaston College now focuses on health care apprenticeships, launched four new health care programs for the college and launched an Early College of Medical Sciences in the fall of 2021.

One recurring theme of the conversation in Gaston County includes the importance of industry partnership. CaroMont, for example, has partnered with the college to promote to their entire workforce opportunities around apprenticeships in practical nursing. The partnership runs deep. Chris Peek, CaroMont’s President and CEO, graduated from Gaston College, and he has pledged to focus on collaboration throughout his tenure. Peek declared, “Our focus from the outset has been on getting stuff done to serve this community. We believe we can sustain and continue to build a great community with the assets we already have here today.”

Gaston College even has an ambulance in its classroom to provide students with real-world experiences on campus.

The partnerships extend to Belmont Abbey College, a local four-year institution. Dr. Bill Thierfelder, President of Belmont Abbey, described the college’s approach as centered on the “whole person in hopes of creating servant leaders.” This extends to Belmont Abbey having a hospital on campus. Thierfelder told us, “Having a hospital on campus allows us to do great things. We aim to provide a seamless education experience for our students going into health care while also providing health care for our entire community.”

Gaston College has also embraced a new approach to textile innovation through its Manufacturing and Textile Innovation Network. Sam Buff, the Vice President and General Manager of Manufacturing & Textile Innovation Network (MTIN), walked us through their pioneering “2+2” partnership with NC State University that allows students to begin their academic career at Gaston College, conclude at NC State and launch into their profession with deep experience around textiles.

The MTIN work extends to a partnership with the Manufacturing Solutions Center. The Manufacturing Solutions Center, based in Catawba County, and MTIN work together to serve an array of customers and their textile needs in ways that provide educational opportunities, incubate textile businesses and products and more. Gaston College is also building a Fiber Innovation Center that will launch in the fall of 2023.

MTIN’s work included producing high quality PPE to combat COVID-19. “We work hard on hard things,” declared Buff.

Buff also took time during his presentation to note, “You have choices of where to spend time — and yet you all chose to be with us in Gaston County.”

Gaston College has also chosen to focus on student life. In recent years, they have added five sports programs including men’s basketball, baseball, women’s volleyball, softball and eSports. Shohn Doty, the Athletic Director for the College and the Head Coach of men’s baseball, shared the impact extends beyond providing more opportunities for students to experience sports on campus to the impact on the College.

The college has experienced success in the early days of sports on campus — including a first-year baseball team that achieved 41 victories against nine losses while also being featured in The New York Times.

Our conversations also included an emphasis on mental health. Gaston County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Booker and Associate Superintendent Dr. Melissa Balknight walked us through their strategy to provide school-based mental health services and therapy in every school. “We worked hard to eliminate barriers,” noted Balknight. “Providers who serve our schools bill insurance for the students who have it, but they provide care for every student – including the uninsured.”

After we left Gaston College, we met with leaders from Healthier Highland. Healthier Highland uses a community-centered health approach oriented around building a culture that supports healthier lifestyles utilizing active living and healthier eating. They work within a historically underserved neighborhood through engaging community leaders, community-led partnerships and innovation solutions including a food truck.

Donyel Barber, who serves as both a Gastonia City Councilwoman and a Community Health Coordinator, led us on a tour showcasing their community-centered work.

Barber told us, “This community was left behind for a long time. We’re working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen moving forward.”

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