Washington County July 2022

Population
12,113

County Seat
Plymouth

Median Income
$35,979

Population Density Designation
Rural

Our visit to Washington County began at the Roanoke River Maritime Museum in downtown Plymouth. The museum offers a window into the world of maritime travel along the coastal byways of North Carolina throughout our history – it also offered a compelling site for a rich, wide-ranging conversation between community leaders and the Blue Cross NC team.

Beaufort County Community College (BCCC) serves Washington County – and Dave Loope, the president of the college, opened our community conversation. “Given Blue Cross NC’s size and scope, it is great to see you in the East,” stated Loope. “We don’t always – or even often – get visits from the leaders of statewide institutions.”

Loope provided background information on the county by noting that Washington County was anchored by a handful of manufacturing companies for much of the its modern history. Moody Dunbar, a food processing company, was one of the primary private industry employers until it closed manufacturing operations in 2000. The closure of its facility, combined with broader population and economic trends, contributed to out-migration – particularly by the younger population.

For BCCC, dual-enrollment (students securing college credit while still in high school) offers one of the answers aimed at stemming out-migration. “We are able to offer a college-going experience, college credits and a chance for students to see themselves as college students right here in Washington County,” continued Loope.

We heard from representatives of county government – including Washington County commissioner Ann Keyes who declared with a laugh that, “I was born here. I live here. And I’ll be here until they plant me here.”

A common theme among the assembled leaders and residents is the need for Washington County to sell itself to younger residents. Keyes posited the key question for them all to answer: “How do you sell a county to its residents?”

County government leaders were joined by representatives of the K–12 education system who pointed out that one in four county residents are under the age of 18 – and two-thirds of the students enrolled in school live in households that are at or below the poverty line.

This kind of data is why BCCC has determined that breaking the cycle of generational poverty is the number one goal of the college’s strategic plan. “Education is the driver for breaking the cycle of poverty for our families,” continued Loope. “And then we must all work together to provide them with career opportunities here at home.”

“That is why we’re here. We want a firsthand understanding from those on the frontlines,” Blue Cross NC President and CEO Dr. Tunde Sotunde replied to Loope. “We want to know how we can work alongside you to improve the health and well-being of everyone in Washington County.”

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.

U39702, 9/22