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Appalachian State University: Region’s Economy Improves, ‘Best Three-month Period in Two Plus Years’

Sept. 6, 2012. Western North Carolina’s economic health improved in July, posting a 0.4 point gain, marking the third monthly increase in a row and halting a two-month slide.

The index, compiled by the Center for Economic Research & Policy Analysis at Appalachian State University, tracks the level of economic activity in 25 western North Carolina counties. 

“We’ve recorded considerable gains in regional economic activity over the past three months,” said Dr. Todd Cherry, director of the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis. “It’s the best three-month period in more than two years. The question is, will it continue and will this translate to better labor market conditions.” 

Seasonally adjusted employment for WNC decreased slightly by less than 0.1 percent in July, providing the first seasonally adjusted decrease in four months. Statewide adjusted employment decreased by 0.3 percent. 

“The regional economy has been improving.  We’ve experienced growth in 13 of the last 15 months. But the level of growth has never reached the point that is required for marked improvements in the labor market,” Cherry said. “A confluence of factors, such as a slow global economy, substantial budget cuts and persistent policy uncertainties, has created a considerable on-going headwind for the recovery.” 

Mapping the growth in employment during July provides a county-level account of job creation. The volatility in seasonally adjusted county-level employment across the region during the month was striking, falling in 17 of the 25 counties. Alleghany, Cherokee and Yancey counties had the largest employment gains (with 2.5, 1.8, and 1.5 percent increases, respectively), while Transylvania, Avery and Swain counties had the largest losses (with 1.8, 1.4 and 1.3 percent decreases, respectively). 

Looking long-term provides a somewhat brighter economic picture. During the past 12 months, all but two WNC counties experienced decreases in unemployment. Unemployment rates in Burke, McDowell and Caldwell counties decreased the most during this period (by 2.4, 2.2 and 1.9 points, respectively) while only rates in Mitchell County increased (by 0.2 points). 

Seasonally adjusted WNC unemployment was 9.9 percent in July – down 0.1 points from June, and down 1.2 points from one year ago. The state and national unemployment rates both increased to 9.6 percent and 8.3 percent, respectively.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate within the region’s rural counties decreased by 0.1 points to 11.2 percent in July. In the region’s metro areas, unemployment remained unchanged in Asheville, and decreased by 0.1 points in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir to 7.8 and 11.0 percent, respectively. 

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates in July decreased in 15 of the 25 WNC counties. Ashe, Swain and Alexander recorded the largest decreases in unemployment rates (with a 0.6, 0.4 and 0.3 point decrease, respectively). Jackson, Madison and Henderson counties had the largest increases (with a 0.5, 0.3 and 0.2 point gain, respectively).

County-level seasonally adjusted unemployment rates were highest in Graham, Rutherford and Swain counties (with rates at 17.0, 14.3, and 13.7 percent, respectively). Rates were lowest in Henderson, Buncombe, and Polk counties (at 7.4, 7.5 and 8.0 percent, respectively).

Seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance in the region, a leading indicator of unemployment, increased by 23.5 percent in July. Initial claims increased 13.9 percent in Asheville and 22.6 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

The full WNC Index and Report for March is online at http://cerpa.appstate.edu.

The WNC Economic Index and Report is a cooperative effort by CERPA and Advantage West. It is compiled and written by Dr. John Dawson, an associate professor in Appalachian’s Department of Economics, and Dr. Ash Morgan, an associate professor in the department.

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