2019 was a spectacular year, especially for Rowan County! Whether it be the million dollar investments into our community or the largest incoming freshman class at the number eight private college in North Carolina, Rowan County has made several memories for the books. Even better, some of the amazing things to happen in 2019 are going to make 2020 a landmark year for the place we call RoCo. Take a look at the top 10 accomplishments and some honorable mentions in Rowan for 2019! What are your predictions for 2020?

1. Chewy.com Fulfillment Center Site Awarded to Rowan County, Construction Began & Plans to Bring 1,200 Jobs to Rowan by 2025

Rowan County recently beat out Georgia for the new Chewy.com Fulfillment Center. This 700,000 square-foot fulfillment center will bring 1,200 jobs to Rowan County. “In the end,” said Ian McDonald vice president of development for NorthPoint Development, “the outcome is simply that a great company, Chewy.com, is investing in a great community, Rowan County.” Chewy.com is partnering with NorthPoint Development of Kansas City, MO to construct the facility as they have built multiple facilities for them in the past.

The creation of the fulfillment center will represent the largest new jobs announcement in Rowan County’s history and is a great economic development for Rowan County. Rowan Economic Development Commission President Rod Crider added that the EDC will be advocating for job training programs at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. “The programs will provide students with the necessary skills – such as proper use of distribution-plant equipment – to work at the Chewy.com plant.” The plant should be completed in the first quarter of 2020 and the facility should be open in June.

Grading work for Chewy.com construction. Photo Credit to the Salisbury Post.

2. New Traffic Lanes Open on I-85 in Southern Rowan Increasing Connectivity to the Region and New Interstate Exit at Old Beatty Ford Road

A 20-year project in the making, new traffic lanes on I-85 and the new exit at Old Beatty Ford Road are finally a reality. Former Mayor of China Grove, Lee Withers, stated, “The gateway now is wide open.” This new exit is providing exciting new opportunities for Rowan County, including the investment into a new project called Kannapolis Crossing. Kannapolis Crossing is expected to feature commercial, office, and residential space. The development is expected to bring $200 million to $500 million in investments to the community and will allow for new businesses, economic growth, and residential growth. Businessman Jake Alexander, who previously served on the N.C. Board of Transportation, said, “the road will be an anchor for future residents and businesses.”

New traffic lanes on Old Beatty Ford Rd. Photo Credit to John Lakey from the Salisbury Post.

3. Kannapolis’s Minor League Baseball Team Unveils their new name and mascot – Kannapolis Cannon Ballers

The Kannapolis Cannon Ballers are here sporting patriotic colors and a new daredevil mascot with a mustachioed baseball head man being shot out of a cannon. Dan Simon of Studio Simon was tasked with creating the mascot. The identity of the new team centers around the adventurous spirit of the area and the fun, carnival-like atmosphere of a minor league baseball team. The team needed to change its name due to the limitations placed on their name by the Dale Earnhardt’s estate. The new name pays homage to the textile plant Cannon Mills, where Kannapolis has its origins.

“What this one did was, it used the Cannon name, which the team liked anyway, and which a lot of the suggestions from the community were,” Simon said. They didn’t forget about Dale Earnhardt either. “That mustache is a homage to Dale Earnhardt. My original thumbnail sketch of that character had a handlebar mustache because my first thought was, if there were to be a cartoon of a period movie about a human cannonball, he’d probably have a handlebar mustache. When I showed that rough sketch to the team, they said, hey, we’ve got to make this look like Dale’s mustache.” The Cannon Ballers will take the field April 9, 2020 when the next year’s season begins.

In addition to their new daredevil mascot, the construction of the future Kannapolis Sports & Entertainment Venue for the team is nearing completion with beautiful green sod being laid at the beginning of December. This combined with other development efforts in the downtown will change the face of Kannapolis and bring new growth to Rowan’s southern border.

Read more about Kannapolis’s downtown revitalization here.

Kannapolis’s Cannon Ballers new mascot hugging a fan!

4. Rowan Little League Softball Team Wins World Championship and Visits the White House

For the second time in four years, Rowan County’s Little League softball team won the World Championship after defeating Eastbank Little League from River Ridge, Louisiana 4 – 1 at the Alpenrose Complex in Portland, Oregon. The first time the softball team won the World Championship was in 2015 when they defeated the Warwick Little League from Rhode Island by a score of 4 – 2. According to WSOCTV, “Rowan came out swinging, scoring three times in the first inning and adding another run in the second.” Louisiana never caught back up to Rowan County’s lead. Upon returning home, the girls were greeted by a huge homecoming that included the fire and police departments escorting the team through town to the Community Park. The celebrations continued into Saturday with a parade down North Main Street.

Rowan Little League Softball Team at the White House.

The young girls’ success did not go unnoticed, and soon, they were invited to visit the White House. “It means a lot to us; it means so much to get invited by the president,” said Ashley Yang. “It’s really an honor to know that everyone recognizes us, knows what we went through and accomplished,” added Campbell Schaen.

5. Opening of Home2 Suites by Hilton brings 93 suites to Rowan’s growing hospitality industry

Home2 Suites is Salisbury’s first extended-stay hotel and has been built to complement the expansive growth in Rowan County and the growing need for accommodations. Chris Ardolino, Vice President of Operations with Narsi Properties says, “Think of it like a studio apartment that has all the amenities of a hotel room.” Owned by Narsi Salisbury, LLC and managed by Narsi Properties, Home2 Suites by Hilton offers all-suite accommodations with fully-accessorized kitchens and modular furniture, complimentary internet, inviting communal spaces, Spin2 Cycle, a combined laundry and fitness area, Home2 Market for grab-and-go items and a complimentary daily breakfast. Guests can enjoy an outdoor saline pool, fire pit, and grill area, and the suites are pet-friendly.

Home2 Suites located on Jake Alexander Blvd. in Salisbury.

“The investment we made in Rowan County has provided a lot of jobs, a lot of opportunities for some great people. The folks in Rowan County have been wonderful,” Ardolino said. “It’s been a really positive experience.” Conveniently located at 1300 Jake Alexander Blvd, guests have excellent access to the North Carolina Transportation Museum, Lazy 5 Ranch, Cheerwine Headquarters, Food Lion Headquarters, and Livingstone College.

6. 40th Anniversary of Autumn Jubilee

Held the first weekend in October, Autumn Jubilee attracts more than 50,000 visitors from across Rowan County and the state of North Carolina. Dan Nicholas Park hosts this annual attraction which offers live music, food, and craft vendors. Admission and parking are free and the event includes shuttle hayrides and a Kid Zone. This year’s Kid Zone featured a magician, pumpkin and face painting, a rock wall and bungee jump, soap bubble circus, an interactive theater by Jef, Jurassic-themed inflatable obstacle course, Knightly Order of the Fiat Lux, and the Dakota and Friends “live” dinosaur show.

Nakesha Heaggins of Salisbury said she took some residents from RHA Group Homes to enjoy the Jubilee this year. “They really enjoyed walking around, seeing all the people there, and looking at all of the activities. It was beautiful with all the trees turning too!” Debra Jean said, “Good bands! Enjoyable day!” This was truly an autumn spectacular you and your family didn’t want to miss.

Read more about this beloved Rowan festival in our previous blog here.

Bubble fun at this past years Autumn Jubilee!

7. Catawba College Welcomes Largest Incoming Class in Campus History

Ranked number 8 for private colleges in North Carolina, Catawba College began their 2019-2020 school with its largest class in its 168-year history. This is more than a 20% increase in total student enrollment. Bill Graham, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said that the increase in enrollment is due to two main factors: the work of their Office of Admissions and Catawba’s reputation for academic excellence.

“Our Office of Admissions has worked very hard for the past year. Their steadfast dedication and attention to the individual student is paying off,” Graham said. “The second reason is that Catawba’s reputation for academic excellence is getting broader and regional attention. Catawba is quite simply one of the finest academic institutions of its size in the United States and once Catawba becomes more widely known, you are going to see an ever-increasing enrollment.” According to the college’s website, Catawba has an enrollment of 1,296 students from 29 states and 19 foreign countries. It has 80 full-time faculty members, a 12:1 student-faculty ratio, and offers 70 academic fields of study.

Catawba College’s Class of 2024!

8. Rowan-Salisbury was selected as a national innovative Best Practice school district to be featured by national media for a more in-depth study of how their innovative approaches have impacted student learning – Releasing the Floodgates of Innovation (AASA):

In 2017, the Successful Practices Network (SPN) and AASA The School Superintendents Association conducted a study of innovation best practices in public K12 systems throughout the United States, with support from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH).  Dr. Bill Daggett led a team of nationally recognized superintendents, researchers and data analysts to identify systems that are using innovative approaches to put students first by expanding and supporting student learning and achievement. Rowan-Salisbury Schools (RSS) was selected as one of these schools. “Each of these systems shares a common mindset that innovation can drive public education with a strong focus on serving the needs of all of their students,” shares Bill Daggett, Founder and Chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education.

West Rowan Elementary students happy to be learning in Rowan County!

With a population of nearly 65% of students that live in poverty and all schools being placed on the low performing list, RSS knew that something drastic needed to change. By 2014 and with no extra funding, all schools were on the 1-1 initiative, giving every student and teacher a device. In just a few years, every school in the district implemented a game-changing innovation with their student’s needs at heart. Across the board, the district saw increases in student engagement and was taken off the low performing list in 2016. RSS was named the first Renewal School System in the state, allowing the district to have its own decisions on budget, hiring, calendar, curriculum, and even standards and standardized testing.

9. Cheerwine Festival brings 60,000+ people to Downtown Salisbury

The Cheerwine Festival is one of Downtown’s Salisbury’s largest attractions had has become a destination event. Drawing more than 60,000 people from around the country, the Cheerwine Festival is a site to behold. Since 2017 when the Salisbury-based brand celebrated its 100-year anniversary, the entire downtown of Salisbury is transformed into a celebration of Cheerwine each May. Want to know how popular the Cheerwine festival is? Look at the numbers:

  • 1,800+ Cheerwine BBQ Tacos
  • 1,000+ lbs. barbeque
  • 3,661 free shuttle rides
  • 5,000+ hush puppies
  • 5,000+ hot dogs
  • 2,650+ Cheerwine sweet treats
  • 500+ lbs. of popcorn
  • 785, 000 Social Media Impressions
  • 22,000,000 media impressions

Cheerwine Festival this past summer in downtown Salisbury.

This year featured over 300 minutes of live music including Smash Mouth. The greatest thing of all (besides the Cheerwine of course) was that the festival raised $7,500 for Meals on Wheels Rowan. Joy Ritchie Harper, vice-president of marketing for Cheerwine and fifth-generation founding family member remarked that, “We’re proud of our Carolina roots, and we co-host this event with the City of Salisbury to celebrate the region’s uniquely southern tastes, sounds, culture and amazing people.”


10. Construction began on Bell Tower Green and the Wallace Cancer Center – both million-dollar investments into our community

Once completed, Bell Tower Green located in the heart of historic downtown Salisbury will be one of Rowan County’s most significant downtown green spaces. This 4-acre park will be a place for the community to gather, celebrate, connect, and engage. Roughly $10 million dollars has been raised to-date in support of Bell Tower Green, with 85% of the funding for the park coming from individuals, families, and foundations with Rowan County ties who are passionate about seeing the area become all that it can be. The Historic Bell Tower (c. 1892) was part of the First Presbyterian Church and the Salisbury Female Academy and is the focal point of the park.

The park will feature a significant green space, including the planting of more than 150 trees, a 60-foot water wall with LED lighting, a splash pad for children, multiple flower beds, a children’s play area, multipurpose hardscapes, a performance stage, and a “grassy” commons area for community gatherings. The gardens will be a beautiful backdrop for weddings, parties, small concerts, and holiday celebrations. Events such as a weekly farmers’ market, Yoga on the Green, wine tastings, the landmark Pops at the Post concerts, the Salisbury Blues and Jazz Festival, and many more are already in planning for the future Bell Tower Green.

Discover more about Bell Tower Green here.

The Bell Tower Green in downtown Salisbury.

The Wallace Cancer Center is a revolutionary cancer center that is being built right here in Rowan County. Named after Lee and Mona Lisa Wallace for their lead gift to the facility, the center will be an innovative cancer treatment for Rowan and surrounding counties. Novant Health has provided cancer care in the Rowan County area for more than 35 years. More than 1,000 patients are diagnosed with cancer annually at facilities throughout the county and are treated here in Rowan County.

Wallace Cancer Center will offer a wide range of services all under one roof, eliminating quite a bit of travel for cancer patients who are told to go to different places for different needed treatments. The Wallace Cancer Center will focus on a holistic approach to the cancer treatment, not only including all of the diagnostic and cancer treatment services, but also support services such as support groups, a wellness garden, a “Look Good, Feel Good Boutique,” and a space for physicians to meet in collaborative teams to discuss leading-edge treatments for cancer patients.

There’s so much more to learn about this life-changing project in Rowan. Read more in our previous blog here.

Just the start of the Wallace Cancer Center! So close to our goal of $12,000,000!

Honorable Mentions

President of the Year

Dr. Carol Spalding of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College has received the prestigious honor of President of the Year 2019 by the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges. She is the first leader in Rowan-Cabarrus to receive this honor. The award was established in 2001 and awards outstanding leadership and commitment to the community college mission in North Carolina. It emphasizes accomplishments of leaders in the past three years at their institutions, and Dr. Spalding has accomplished a lot. Carl M. Short, chair of the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Board of Trustees, commented on Spalding’s work saying, “For the past decade, Dr. Carol Spalding has built the College’s capability, physical plant, and business proposition to serve the community. Dr. Spalding has dedicated her career to the mission of the community college and its service to students, and we are privileged to have her as our leader.”

Partners of the Year

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Castle & Cooke, and the City of Kannapolis have been named the North Carolina Community College System’s 2019 Distinguished Partners in Excellence. While the partners have supported Rowan-Cabarrus and the community in may endeavors, including educational opportunities, workforce preparation, and economic development, this award focused mainly on the significant investment the City of Kannapolis made to relocate the College’s Cosmetology School from West Avenue in downtown Kannapolis to the former Big Lots shopping center, and a nearly three-acre donation from Castle & Cooke North Carolina on the North Carolina Research Campus where the College’s Advanced Technology Center will be located. “We are pleased and honored to be part of this unique partnership with the City and Rowan-Cabarrus as the North Carolina Research Campus begins its second decade. With the addition later this year of the new NC Food Innovation Laboratory at the NCRC, we add to our research an important pathway to the creation of new businesses and new jobs in our region and throughout North Carolina,” said Castle & Cooke North Carolina Vice President of Operations Mark Spitzer. “The College’s biotechnology program and the new Advanced Technology Center ensure that we are able to extend the benefits of this unique partnership by training our citizens to be the workforce of the future for these new jobs and businesses.”

Partners in Learning retweeted by “Ellen”

Partners In Learning works with 170 students daily, many with special needs. On October 7, Ellen DeGeneres took notice of Partners in Learning, a community impact and childcare center here in Rowan County. She posted a video on her Twitter page @TheEllenShow and #MondayMotivation.

The video showed a student, Gabe Andruzzi, who suffers from an unknown genetic disorder that effects his lower extremities. He was running with his crutches with Dewayne “Speedy” Smith. Speedy owns his own company called 87FitLife and works with Partners in Learning to help students with their developmental goals. Speedy will be working regularly with Gabe at Partners in Learning to help him with his goals.

This was a great way to shed light on just a fraction of the amazing things this organization does for children in Rowan County and beyond. We’re so excited to learn more about Partners in Learning in 2020! Read more on how Partners in Learning is changing our community one child at a time here.

Anthony Johnson featured on the TODAY show representing North Rowan High School, graduate of Livingstone College

Anthony Johnson grew up in New Orleans, and, not being challenged in the classroom, dropped out of school. “As I was going around getting the teachers to sign the paper that said I was dropping out, you could see it in their face. It was a relief,” Johnson said. After dropping out, he earned his GED and began working at minimum-wage jobs. When tragedy struck, he re-examined his life, and decided to be the teacher that he never had and always needed, one who challenged his students to learn. He went on to say that the teachers from his childhood didn’t suffer from his lack of trying, only he did. His advice? “Always do your best.”

Johnson – an Apple distinguished educator, a TED innovative educator, a LEGO master educator, STEM certified educator, and former Teacher of the Year at the district and regional levels – teaches at North Rowan High School, but his journey started in 5th grade. “I fell in love with science,” he said. Now, he doesn’t even use desks in his classroom. “Desks are for the individual student,” Johnson commented. “Tables and sofas are for collaborating. You may have to work with someone you don’t like, which is a 21st century skill.”

Johnson is currently teaching at North Rowan High School and graduated from Livingstone College.

North Rowan High School was recognized as an “Apple Distinguished School” for 2019-2022 for its innovative approach to challenge-based learning empowered by Apple technology

Apple Distinguished Schools are schools that inspire leaders and educational excellence using technology for innovative creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. “The Apple Distinguished School recognition speaks to our school community’s commitment to nurturing each student’s unique gifts and talents in pursuit of their personal True North,” says North Rowan High School Principal, Meredith Williams. “Our staff engages students through real-world, community-based experiences and personally relevant challenges, even when these methods required that we reimagine our approach to many traditional school processes.”

This award highlights North’s success as a compelling learning environment that engages students and provides tangible academic results.

Hood Theological Seminary hosted The Racial Equity Institute bringing together community leaders to understand diversity and positively impact Rowan County

Hosted by Racial Equity Rowan, The Racial Equity Institute (REI) was a two-day Phase 1 training hosted at the Hood Theological Seminary. This training was to help participants understand racism in its institutional and structural forms.

This workshop moved away from focusing on bigotry, and focused on a historical, cultural, and structural analysis of racism. Hood Theological Seminary has a history of hosting and supporting social justice and racial equity events on the campus due to the non-threatening environment at the Seminary.

Hood Theological Seminary President, Dr. Lattimore, participated in the event with community members. John Everett, Director of Institutional Advancement and Enrollment Management, said that all the comments were positive, but the institution provided a challenge as the workshop presented a historical, cultural, and structural analysis of racism. “It’s a difficult topic, but it’s one that needs to be talked about. We’re glad that we got to host such an important training for our community.”

Patterson Farm, Inc. recognized as NC Grange Farm of the Year

Patterson Farm, Inc. was named NC Grange Farm of the Year and was nominated for its support of the China Grove community. Patterson Farm supports local charities and organizations, including Operation Clean Sweep for three roads in Rowan County. Michelle Patterson, one of the Patterson family, is the former chairwoman of the Rowan County Tourism Development Authority and currently chairs the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Committee.

The farm grows 15,000 poinsettias annually in their greenhouses, and have partnered with Cabarrus-Rowan Community Health Centers to provide on-site health care for 180 guest workers.

Patterson Farm, Inc. has previously won: Double Gold Star Farm award; a certificate of safety Second Year Gold Award from the N.C. Department of Labor; Agribusiness Council Farm of the Year; Rowan Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year; and Primus Food safety certification.



About The Author

Marisa Sapanaro

I am originally from Hamden, a small village in upstate New York, and currently live in Lenoir, NC. I was a middle school teacher for 5 years before joining local marketing agency, Miller Davis, to pursue my passion of writing. Rowan County is charming, beautiful, and full of surprises. Everywhere I go, I meet a new person with an amazing story. I look forward to meeting more people and discovering the story of Rowan County’s original places through the kindness of those who live and work here.