From Western Piedmont Council of Governments: the Greater Hickory Metro region is situated in the Midwestern area of North Carolina and includes the counties of Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba and 24 municipalities. The region boasts the State’s maximum vertical relief of approximately one mile (from 6,000 ft. at Calloway Peak in the northwest to 760 ft. on the Catawba River at Lake Norman in the Southeast). The region contains prominent peaks, rolling foothills and reaches into the Carolina Piedmont. The Greater Hickory Metro is bordered by four beautiful Catawba River lakes and is a short drive to the quiet, majestic Blue Ridge Mountains or to Charlotte, the State's largest city. The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton MSA is home to more than 365,000 residents. Catawba County is the largest county in the region in terms of population (157,034), while Hickory is the region’s largest municipality (41,305). Close behind are Morganton (17,097) and Lenoir (18,461).
The area is connected by Highway 321 and Interstate 40 and is rich in historic and cultural sites, museums, shops, handmade crafts, golf, festivals and a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. Portions of the Pisgah National Forest, Lake James State Park and South Mountain State Park are located in the region. The Hickory Crawdads is a minor league baseball team based in Hickory. A Class A team in the South Atlantic League, the Crawdads have been a farm team of the Texas Rangers since 2009. The Crawdads play home games at L. P. Frans Stadium, which opened in 1993 and provides seating for 5,092 fans.
Nationally renowned for its furniture roots, the area boasts the best furniture shopping in western NC with over 1.5 million square feet of furniture shopping space. The area is also known for making alkaline glazed stoneware. The tradition began in the early 1800's using clay from the Catawba River to fashion canning and food and drink storage containers for farmers. A Data Center Corridor is also present in the region and stretches along Highway 321 from the Apple facility in Maiden north to the Google facility in Lenoir.
The Greater Hickory Metro has an array of cultural amenities including art galleries, national and regional on-stage shows, music and theatre. The area is proud of its Catawba Science Center (CSC). The center's permanent exhibit areas explore Physical, Natural and Earth sciences, while interactive traveling exhibits rotate throughout the year. Freshwater and saltwater aquarium exhibits – featuring North Carolina’s only marine touch pool with live sharks and stingrays -- offer exciting hands-on learning experiences.
The Greater Hickory Metro is home to Lenoir-Rhyne University, which U.S. News and World Report ranked among the top ten "Best Values" in the region. Founded in 1891, Lenoir-Rhyne has 1,900 students and boasts a student/faculty ratio of 12:1. The university is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) but is open to people from all religious backgrounds. Appalachian State University has Centers at four locations in the Greater Hickory Metro. While each site offers a variety of academic programming, the ASU Centers offer selected undergraduate programs on a full-time, day-time basis (8-5, M-F). The area is also home to three community colleges, Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, Western Piedmont Community College, and Catawba Valley Community College.