Transylvania County May 2023

Population
32,986

County Seat
Brevard

Median Income
$57,830

Population Density Designation
Rural

Transylvania County is known as the “Land of the Waterfalls,” boasting more than 250. If you think about it, a waterfall is a symbol of determination and will: When the water reaches a drop-off, it simply pushes forward, changing shape and adapting to its landscape.

This is an appropriate metaphor for the determined resilience of the people who have made Transylvania County their Western North Carolina home. Once a center for commercial cabbage and potato operations, and later home to the Ecusta paper mill and Dupont chemical plant, the area has shifted its focus to the growing mountain tourism industry.

The economic shift over the years has brought some challenges. Today, a major issue is childcare, which has far-reaching effects on labor and the regional economy. Without viable childcare options, parents often have to leave the workforce entirely. To begin with, infant care options are severely limited in Transylvania County, so many families rely on grandparents to provide care for their kids. Of course, most grandparents aren’t trained in early childhood education.

The importance of early childhood education can’t be overstated. Research shows that if a child can read proficiently by third grade,1 it drastically lowers the chances of developing a substance use disorder, getting involved with crime and contracting serious health problems later in life.

Blue Cross NC’s Extra Miles Tour stopped at Brevard College for a conversation with educators and community leaders about the region’s more pressing issues, including early education and workforce development. A community’s prosperity is very much rooted in helping children to thrive. “If this isn’t a great place to be a kid, it’s not a great place,” said Brenda Blackburn, dean of Blue Ridge Community College’s Business and Service Careers.

But like the waterfalls that define the area’s beauty, Transylvania County has learned how to shift direction in response to larger outside forces. The county is executing a strategy to expand the availability of affordable childcare, including licensed home-based care. The idea is to test new solution models and scale-up what works. Collaboration is essential to that scaling-up process, with business, education and faith leaders working together to expand efforts that show short-term potential.

The local faith community is taking up the challenge in creative ways, providing spaces for childcare and family events. At the same time, they provide resources and referrals for families dealing with substance use disorder and other conditions.

The recent closing of the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill in neighboring Haywood County will have far-reaching consequences throughout Western North Carolina, costing hundreds of jobs and draining tens of millions of dollars from the regional economy. But like the waterfalls that push beyond obstacles, the people of Transylvania County face the future without fear, adapting to new realities with confidence.

1 Source: AECFReporReadingGrade3.pdf (ny.gov).

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U39702, 6/23