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High Country Counties Showing Employment Growth; Majority of the State Seeing the Opposite

By Ethan Woodhouse

June 26, 2012. The North Carolina Department of Commerce recently released unemployment statistics for May 2012 last week and counties in the High Country region are reporting growth in the right direction.

Of the 100 North Carolina Counties, 76 reported rises in their unemployment rate. Avery, Ashe and Watauga all saw their rates drop.

Between April and May, Avery’s numbers fell from 11.8 percent to 11.4 percent. Ashe saw the most significant drop, 12 percent to 11.3 percent. Watauga’s rates only fell from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent, but any increase in the workforce is a positive sign. 

“A good part of all of this, in all three counties, is seasonal employment,” Director of Economic Development in Avery County Bret Gardella said. “We got hit pretty hard this winter, but I’m hoping that we’re seeing some employers being more comfortable with where the economy is now.”

Gardella cited the Avery County Job Fair held in March, the first of it’s kind in 10 years, as a big assistance in bringing employers and job-seekers together. Gardella is also working to install an Avery County Pride and Business Incubator in the old Banner Elk elementary school. He hopes that this new idea will support “mom and pop” businesses, service and retail businesses and other opportunites to “the folks that need our help and are true to who we are in Avery County.”

While monthly unemployment rates provide insight into impending trends, the NCDC is still confident in the direction of the state’s economy. “While rates were up in most counties for May, over-the-year, we see a positive downward trend,” said N.C. Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary Dale Carroll via press release. “Rates were down in 88 counties across North Carolina since May of last year. Our focus remains on growing jobs across the state as several key job announcements have been made over the past several weeks. Our employment service offices are committed to working with employers to get job seekers back to work in North Carolina.”

Director of Economic Development in Watauga, Joe Furman echoed sentiments similar to Carroll and Gardella. He talked about the seasonal aspect on job growth and that in Boone, when college students leave for the summer, other residents take up the work students leave behind.

Otherwise, the town of Boone easily draws the attention of business owners. “We try to create a pro-business atmosphere,” Furman said. “We  are hoping to entice businesses to locate here.”

But that is easier said than done. Furman said marketing hasn’t always been a strong point for the Watauga Economic Development Commission, but the program is in a “growth year.”  

Growth always sounds better than recession though. Especially in Watauga, were the unemployment rate routinely stays below the State’s seasonally adjusted rate of 9.4 percent. Stagnancy just won’t cut it.

While Avery and Ashe’s numbers still linger just above that figure, employees like Gardella (who has only been on the job for a year) are full of fresh ideas that are encouraging growth.

“It’s definitely a trend in the right direction,” Gardella said. “We want it (unemployment) to continue dropping and we’re doing everything we can to ensure that it does.”

For the full study released by NCDC, visit http://www.ncesc1.com/pmi/rates/PressReleases/County/NR_May2012CountyRateRelease_M.pdf.