ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — If Reagan Gural is not Alamance County’s biggest cheerleader, I’m not sure who is.

And her enthusiasm is paying off!

“Burlington is a great place along with so many other downtowns in our community,” she told me during a recent stroll down Main Street.

Gural (it’s pronounced “ghur-RELL”) is the president and CEO of the Alamance County Chamber of Commerce. It’s branding reflects the abbreviated “Alamance Chamber” name.

She grew up on a farm in neighboring Caswell County before deciding to attend Alamance Community College (of which she’s a graduate) while working at a bank in the area.

“I was with the bank for nine years,” she said. “It was an incredible start to my career.”

During this time, she became a volunteer with the chamber and graduated from the chamber’s Leadership Alamance program.

“And when a position became available with the chamber, I thought ‘I could do that.’ So I took the step and was hired,” she said.

That was in 2011 when she became the chamber’s vice president of membership development. Fast-forward to 2021 when she was named president and CEO after the retirement of longtime chamber head Mac Williams.

For most chambers of commerce, the main purpose is promoting and protecting the business interests of its members. The Alamance Chamber does a lot of that.

But unlike many chambers, the Alamance Chamber is the county’s main economic development arm. And not only does it work on bringing business TO the county, it’s working to make sure there will be enough workers for these businesses to employ.

“The loss of textiles was significant for Alamance County,” she told me. (Remember Burlington Industries? J. Spencer Love founded it in Burlington in 1923. It would grow into the largest textile company in the world before folding in the early 2000s.)

“We have companies that were in the textile industry and reinvented themselves. They didn’t go away,” Gural said. “But we had companies that did go away, and that has opened up opportunities for industrial growth.”

And talk about industrial growth: Alamance County now has two major industrial parks: the North Carolina Commerce Park and the North Carolina Industrial Center.

From a $300 million dollar, 450-worker UPS distribution center under construction to a Chick-fil-A distribution center, both parks combined claim multiple companies that employ thousands.

Add that to some of the older iconic companies like Honda Power Equipment and Labcorp (the county’s largest employer with 3,000+ workers) you have an economic portfolio many communities would envy.

Gural credits the multiple cities and towns in the county working together with county government, the individual companies and the chamber’s economic development efforts with making it happen.

But Alamance, like practically all of North Carolina, has an economic development challenge.

“Workforce development is our number one challenge that we talk about every day,” she told me. “We have the jobs to fill, and we need to find the people to do that.”

In Alamance County, workforce development starts at a young age.

The chamber’s Alamance Youth Leadership Academy is a partnership with Elon University. In this program, rising 7th graders meet and develop leadership skills several times during a two-year period.

“It all comes back to workforce development,” Gural said. “These students (are) exposed to opportunities that we hope will be memorable to them that they stay in Alamance County or go away and come back.”

For older students, the chamber’s Career Accelerator Program recruits high school juniors and seniors to take part in paid apprenticeships with companies that have agreed to be a part of the program.

The chamber works not only with the public school system and area charter schools to make this happen, it also coordinates the program with Alamance Community College.

After spending four years in this apprenticeship program, these students have not only degrees from Alamance Community College but guaranteed jobs with the companies where they’ve been working. They also have no college debt.

It’s a win-win for everyone!

But Gural will be the first to tell you, economic development’s a lot more adding jobs and growing the local economy. It’s also enhancing prosperity and the quality of life for everyone.

“I think we have it all. We have access. We have quality of life. Alamance is just an amazing place,” she told me.

Sounds like a cheerleader to me!

For more information on the Alamance Chamber click here.

For more information on the Career Accelerator Program, click here.