Alamance Community College President Dr. Algie Gatewood works to close skills gap

ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. -- In just a little more than five years, he’s turned around one of the Piedmont Triad’s big job generators.

And what happens Nov. 6 -- he feels -- will be a key to keeping that engine firing on all cylinders and, in turn, preserve the region’s economic vitality.

“This institution is the center of the future of Alamance County,” Alamance Community College President Dr. Algie Gatewood told me during my recent visit to Alamance Community College, which sits on the edge of Graham just off Interstates 40/85.

Gatewood believes a college should reflect its community -- something he believes it didn’t do effectively before he arrived.

“Sometimes we become comfortable with the status quo,” he said of that time. “I’m not comfortable with the status quo.”

So in just a little more than five years on the job, he’s added 42 new curriculum programs. That’s something the campus hadn’t done in 15 years prior to his arrival.

The programs include mechatronics, a field of engineering that combines robotics with electronics, computers and other subfields. Another program, computer-integrated machining, allows students to use highly-technical machines to make things. In other words, the students can learn skills that will help them find jobs in many modern manufacturing plants.

Those two programs are housed in the $16 million Advanced Applied Technology Center which opened last year. It’s a place that’s helping close something Gatewood talks about often, the region’s skills gap.

“There are jobs (out there). There are good-paying jobs that have technical requirements,” he said. “And business and industry cannot find people to fill these jobs.”

But closing the skills gap, he says, is going to take a lot more than a beautiful, big, high-tech building. It’s why you could say he’s added “campaign manager” to his job description.

On Nov. 6, Alamance County voters will have an opportunity to approve a $36.9 million bond package for the college.

One of the big items this money would make possible: a $9 million Natural and Life Sciences/Biotechnology Center of Excellence.

“The biotechnology industry in this state has an economic impact of $73 billion,” he said.

ACC’s biotechnology program would move into that new building, freeing up space for the nursing program in the current Powell Building.

“We can’t produce enough nurses,” Gatewood said.

The bond money would also help ACC establish satellite campuses in Mebane and near Cone Health’s Alamance Regional Medical Center.

It would also help build a center to train local law enforcement officers and other first responders. A new parking deck would also ease the shortage of spaces on the main campus.

“For every dollar that you invest in Alamance Community College, the return on that investment is $4.40,” he said. “That’s a 440 percent return on investment. Where else can you get that kind of investment?”

Also on the ballot Nov. 6 in Alamance County: a $150 million bond for the Alamance-Burlington School System to build a new high school and upgrade other schools. Voters will also decide a quarter-cent sales tax hike which could help offset whatever property tax increase the bond packages could generate.

For more information on Alamance Community College and college’s bond package, click here.