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Watauga and Western NC’s Economy by the Numbers; Watauga Economic Development Summit Held Wednesday Afternoon at BRAHM

March 7, 2012. The conference room on the second floor of the Blowing Rock Art & History Museum was packed with business executives, community members and county and town officials during the Watauga Economic Development Summit at Blowing Rock Art & History Museum (BRAHM) on Wednesday, March 7.

Among those presenting was Ash Morgan, assistant director of the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis at Appalachian State University, who said the overview of his presentation was:

“That western North Carolina doesn’t fair as well as the state on average, but Watauga County manages to buck the trend. It was hit by the recession just as everybody was, [but] its recovery seems to better than other counties. Certainly employment and income levels and education levels [helped].”

Below are some figures and information from the center that he highlighted.

  • Watauga County’s Employment Growth from 1990 to 2010: 41 to 60 percent increase
  • Share of Income From Government Programs
    • Watauga County– 17.2 percent
    • Wilkes County– 27.6 percent
    • Ashe County– 30.4 percent
    • Caldwell County– 30.4 percent
    • Avery County– 27.9 percent
    • Johnson County,Tenn., – 39.8 percent
  • 35 percent of the population as a four-year college degree
  • 10 and 20 percent of Watauga’s economy is “directly attributed” to tourism
  • $175 million (“raw dollar”) expenditures and 2,400 jobs “directly attributed” to tourism
  • Western North Carolina’s job growth was half the rate of the rest of the state
  • One in 13 new jobs in the state was in Western North Carolina
  • Per capita income in Western NC remained flat in the last decade
  • Per capita income in rest of state grew at 9 percent

Morgan highlighted two sectors of Watauga County’s economy that is incongruent with the rest of the state – accommodations & food and manufacturing. Accommodations and food account for 23 percent of Watauga’s economy versus only about 11 percent for the state. Manufacturing accounts for nearly 4 percent of Watauga’s economy versus nearly 15 percent for the state.

He attributed ASU to being a stable economic factor in the High Country. He added that ASU has many “spill over effects” that are hard to quantify in dollar terms. He defined the counties that ASU impacts as Watauga, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Wilkes. Morgan said ASU is a “huge presence in the area.”

  • ASU accounts for 5,121 jobs
  • $125 million in earnings,
  • $39 million indirect business tax goes to local governments
  • 10 percent of region economy is “directly attributed” to ASU
  • ASU accounts for 1 in 12 dollars spent
  • ASU accounts for 1 in 24 jobs