Appalachian State University is making a push 45 miles south into Hickory, buying the former headquarters building of Corning Optical Communications to create a campus in Catawba County.
The Boone-based university paid $1.02 million for the five-story, 225,800-square-foot building, university spokesperson Anna Oakes said. It’s larger than any Appalachian State building in Boone, Chancellor Sheri Everts said at a Friday announcement event.
Cost of renovations and a timeline for deciding which academic programs will be offered at the campus haven’t been decided.
Hickory and Catawba officials have long pushed for expanded higher education offerings in the city, which is home to Lenoir Rhyne University, a private institution affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It’s the largest N.C. metro area without a UNC System campus, local officials say.
The building on a 16-acre site was used for many years as Corning’s N.C. headquarters because of its proximity to the New York-based company’s optical fiber plants in Catawba County. In 2019 Corning moved its 400-employee division headquarters to north Charlotte with plans to employ as many as 650 at the site. It cited Charlotte’s airport, appeal to younger workers and stature as a major business city as key reasons for the move.
The site’s proximity to U.S. Highway 321, Interstate 40, and Hickory Regional Airport made it attractive for the university, officials said. The building has been vacant since Corning’s Charlotte move.
Appalachian State enrolled a record 20,641 students this fall, a 16% increase since 2013, a year before Everts became chancellor. Catawba County has about 160,000 residents, more than triple the number in mountainous Watauga County, where Boone is located.