Macon County October 2022


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

We began our visit to Macon County at the Jerry Sutton Public Safety Training Center of Southwestern Community College (SCC). The Public Safety Training Center is located within the Macon County Industrial Park on Highway 64.

Macon County has just over 37,000 residents according to the latest census, and on the day we visited, the leaves were beginning to change their colors across the mountains and hills that comprise the county. The Nantahala National Forest, the Nantahala River and the Cullasaja River (including the many waterfalls that make up the river) are big draws for tourism and outdoor recreation within the county.

The county’s ties to the Nantahala National Forest are part of the calling card for the county — including SCC’s focus on public safety and their unique offering around the National Park Service.

SCC president Don Tomas welcomed us to campus on behalf of his students, faculty, staff and community. Tomas pointed out that North Carolina is a large state, and while Asheville is perceived by some to be the end of the state, it is really only the beginning of western North Carolina.

Curtis Dowdle, the Director of Public Safety for the college, walked us through the college’s offerings in Basic Law Enforcement Training, Fire and Rescue, and Emergency Medical Transportation to begin our conversation. Dowdle is a native Maconian who has watched the public safety offerings of the college grow as the needs of the region have grown. In fact, the public safety training center is located in Macon County partially due to increasing needs in the county and with the National Park Service.

“We are particularly proud of the fact that we train every aspect of emergency response from the 911 operator to the emergency responder. We are serving our residents all the way until the emergency is resolved,” shared Dowdle.

We met with several local agency leaders (police, fire, EMT) who testified to the success of SCC in generating high-quality workers while also noting the continued shortage of workers in each of their respective fields. Tomas, Dowdle and others noted keys to placing more workers in the pipeline include marketing the upward mobility provided by jobs, moving students to and through programs more quickly and collaborating with businesses to provide “learn and earn” opportunities.

After we received the program overview, we were able to tour an ambulance that serves as a classroom. We also traveled down to SCC’s “burn building” to watch students in the firefighter program practice extracting folks from an old car. Our tour ended at the tactical training field where students in their basic law enforcement training program are able to practice vehicle pursuits and other law enforcement techniques in a real-world, contained setting.

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