Haywood County May 2023


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

Haywood Community College might just be the most beautiful community college campus in America. That’s not really all that surprising, considering it’s nestled in one of the most beautiful counties you’ll ever see.

The school holds a central place in Haywood County’s economic landscape, helping to educate and train a new workforce for a new era – the era after the recent closure of the nearby Pactiv Evergreen paper mill. The closure will drastically transform life in the area, as elected leaders, employers, educators and health care providers face a very different future from what they expected just a few months ago.

The mill closure was a thread running through all our discussions at Haywood Community College. It’s impossible to overstate just how important the mill has been in the town’s historical narrative. And while tens of thousands of people in the region mourn the loss of a major employer – and the loss of an integral part of local history – there is a fierce determination to keep moving forward, to manifest a shared vision of a bright future.

In Haywood County, collaboration is everywhere. Businesses that would be competitors elsewhere are partners in progress here; leaders from both sides of the aisle have moved beyond petty politics. “We’ve all decided, hey, let’s stop keeping score and let’s just win,” is how Haywood Community College Dean of Workforce & Industry Doug Burchfield put it.

The college is the primary center for both training the area’s workforce and providing direct assistance to small business development. A new Workforce and Industry Training Center offers vocational instruction in carpentry, electrical installation and repair, HVAC servicing, plumbing, machining and a range of other skills that will strengthen the infrastructure of the region.

In Canton that evening, we shared dinner with Mayor Zeb Smathers and other local figures, including town officials and nonprofit leaders. Mayor Smathers shared his emotional take on a pivotal moment in Canton’s history: “I’ve lived in Haywood County all my life, and I know that the mill is more than a workplace – it’s a way of life. Canton has been a mill town for more than 100 years, and it will remain a mill town even after this loss.”

Others spoke about plans already being carried out to help the region transition to what comes next. On the eve of the mill closure – the whistle blew for the last time the very next day – Canton showed determination and grit. With an ear to the past and an eye to the future, the community is reimagining its future while preserving its identity and its history.

Haywood County is meeting its challenges head-on, working together to write the next chapter of its history. Blue Cross NC’s President and CEO Tunde Sotunde pledged the company’s support in securing a healthy and prosperous future for the areas impacted by the mill closure.

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U39702, 6/23