Stanly County March 2023


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

Albemarle, NC, in Stanly County is one of many historic mill towns across the state that saw its economy change drastically when the textile industry largely moved overseas in the 1980s. Today it’s been reimagined as an “academic village.” The town’s revitalization is a case study of the ways education, health care innovation and entrepreneurship intertwine and have a positive effect on local economies.

The Blue Cross NC team’s first stop in Stanly County was at the Pfeiffer University Center for Health Sciences.

“Albemarle is in the middle of nowhere … but in the middle of everything,” said the Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall, who offered a brief overview of the town’s history and the importance of the university’s presence.

Pfeiffer University chose Albemarle as the site for a satellite, state-of-the-art campus housing its Master of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies and Master of Occupational Therapy programs largely because the university wanted to improve the health and quality of life in the surrounding areas, which are mostly rural.

As university President Scott Bullard explained, data show that students who conduct their clinical rotations in a rural location are more likely to stay in or near that area. The university anticipates that students in its Applied Health Sciences programs will serve the community as they study and stay in the community after they graduate.

“Getting more physician assistants in the community is critical to turning the region back from ‘fast food medicine,’” said Scott Fisher, Chair and Program Director and Associate Professor of Physician Assistant Studies.

The Assistant Dean of Applied Health Sciences Elizabeth Fain offered a real-world example of how students and faculty are directly serving the community. Through grants from a community foundation, the school was able to buy several elder-friendly tablets. Occupational therapy students use these tools in their work with older members of the community to reduce fall risks, and this requires time spent helping their clients learn how to use the technology. In the long run, this initiative doesn’t just prevent falls: It builds a connection to the community, facilitates intergenerational empathy and helps address social isolation.

After touring the campus, we took a brief stroll through town to an old funeral home that’s been repurposed to house GHA Autism Supports. The organization helps nearly 100 children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) using residential, vocational, educational, community and in-home services and a variety of different programs. Many of these programs utilize the talents of students and faculty in the university just a few blocks away.

GHA Autism Supports’ latest venture is Morrow Valley Farmstead, a one-of-a-kind residential facility that provides care for people with developmental disabilities who are experiencing age-related chronic or medical conditions. As we learned about this innovative work, the Blue Cross NC team enjoyed wraps, donuts and coffee from Second Street Sundries, a cafe run by GHA to provide employment opportunities for individuals with autism.

People from around the world recognize GHA Autism Supports as a model community for individuals with ASD. The town has become an international destination for people who want to learn best practices in the field.

All of this academic, research and service activity contributes to a renewed sense of vibrancy in the downtown area. During our campus tour early in the day, the team enjoyed the view from a conference room several flights up from street level. Dr. Bullard pointed out the town’s old car dealership on the street corner below, recently transformed into a bustling restaurant and nightspot. The vintage neon Pontiac sign still glows, but cars aren’t for sale. Instead, students, faculty and locals now gather here for food and friendship.

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, 4/23