Pender County November 2022


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

Our visit to Pender County began at the Historic Burgaw Train Depot. The Burgaw Train Depot is the oldest railroad depot in North Carolina.1 It was restored to resemble the historic makeup of the building, and it now serves as an event center for the town of Burgaw.

Pender County is a fast-growing county just north of Wilmington. The county consists of several vacation communities along the coastline including Topsail Beach and Surf City, as well as significant farmland inland. The county has over 300 farms producing crops such as soybeans and animals such as “broiler chicken” and hogs.2

We were greeted by Pender County native and former North Carolina Farm Bureau CEO Larry Wooten.

“Burgaw is a great community, it is a true community with a small-town spirit, and it is fantastic for you all to be here,” noted Wooten. Wooten once owned a large farm in the community, and he said with a smile that he was married just down the street from the rail depot.

Blue Cross NC President and CEO Dr. Tunde Sotunde said Blue Cross NC remains on the road for the Extra Miles Tour in order to “get out of our buildings in the Research Triangle and out into communities to understand what is going on in your communities.”

Our time in Pender County was guided by the Cape Fear Collective and Community Care of the Lower Cape Fear. Cape Fear Collective is a social impact organization focused on sparking system change in southeastern North Carolina through collaborations focused on the intersection of leveraging local assets, data and social impact investing around issues such as housing and health care. Community Care of the Lower Cape Fear works with Prepaid Health Plans, ACOs, practices and providers to improve patient outcomes, experience and satisfaction. The organization is also one of the three Network Leads chosen for the Healthy Opportunities Pilot.

The conversation focused on the Healthy Opportunities Pilot for the region. The Healthy Opportunities Pilot is a large-scale pilot program to test and evaluate what North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services describes as, “evidence-based, non-medical interventions related to housing, food, transportation and interpersonal safety and toxic stress to high-needs Medicaid enrollees.”3

Our conversation included an overview of the Healthy Opportunities Pilot in the region. We were also able to engage in conversation with several organizations that are helping to execute the pilot including Pender County Christian Services and Destiny Total Healthcare. A key takeaway from the conversation is the need to learn from the complexity of putting together the coalition of nonprofits, government agencies and for-profit businesses that are needed to meet the needs of the targeted population.

Sarah Ridout, the Healthy Opportunities Pilot Director for Community Care of the Lower Cape Fear, walked us through the sobering statistics the pilot seeks to address including the roughly 1,200,000 North Carolinians who struggle to find affordable housing and the 8th highest rate of food insecurity in the country.

Sandy Harris, the Executive Director of Pender County Christian Services, noted the Healthy Opportunities Pilot has been important for the residents she serves because, “Elderly people won’t inherently ask for help, so we need a united approach.”

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.