ASHEVILLE AREA HOME BUILDING ACTIVITY STRONGEST IN FOUR YEARS; STATE ECONOMY BETTER THAN U.S.
ASHEVILLE AREA HOME BUILDING ACTIVITY STRONGEST IN FOUR YEARS; STATE ECONOMY BETTER THAN U.S. ASHEVILLE, N.C., Oct. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Home building in the Asheville area is the strongest it's been in four years, while retail and vehicle sales also are up. Underlying those strengths are falling unemployment and record employment in June, July and August. Commercial construction in the first half of the year has lagged but permits expected by yearend should make this a strong -- if not a record -- year. At the same time, results of the tourism season have been mixed. These results for Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson counties were highlighted today at the Western Perspectives economic briefing by Don J. Harrison, First Union's Asheville city executive. "I think the most important thing about these fairly strong economic numbers for our area is that we not only are in recovery but that we are building a new foundation for our economy of the '90s," Harrison said. "However, things aren't turning around for every individual family, and each of us still is bearing the cost of some economic changes in our society. But the good news is that the trend here is positive." Harrison was joined at the briefing by David Orr, First Union's chief economist, who reported on the state and national economies. "Although North Carolina's economy has slowed down from its sharp rebound in late 1991, it is still outperforming the national averages in virtually every category," Orr said. Orr cited North Carolina employment that was 0.6 percent higher in August than in August 1991, whereas the national gain was 0.2 percent. N.C. retail sales in June were 9.5 percent higher, compared with a 3.0 percent gain nationally. Single-family home permits in the state through August are up 30 percent, compared to 21 percent growth in the U.S. Multi-family permits here are up 7.8 percent, compared to a 3.2 percent decline nationally. Personal income in North Carolina rose 5.4 percent from the first quarter of last year, compared with 4.0 percent for the entire U.S. Nationally, the job market took a turn for the worse in August, despite a small dip in unemployment. August employment declined by 83,000 jobs, despite creation of 100,000 temporary summer jobs for teenagers. "This summer drop in employment is further evidence of the determination of U.S. companies to improve their productivity and efficiency," Orr said. "The decline in jobs in the private sector of 167,000 is in sharp contrast to the boost in the index of aggregate hours worked, which rose at a 10.4 percent annual rate in August." Orr said that structural transitions, such as the defense slowdown and debt reduction, would likely last another couple of years, regardless of who is in the White House. "In the meantime, the pattern of mini-cycles, with ups and downs in our economy, is likely to continue," he said. "The key is not to get overly optimistic when a string of good numbers appears nor too pessimistic when data like this drop in employment appear." In Asheville, employment for the MSA in August was estimated at 93,700 -- 1.2 percent more than August a year ago and the biggest August employment on record. "Most of the hiring, however, is for service jobs, such as hotels and restaurants," Harrison said. "Although those jobs add to the total, the related paychecks tend not to be as large -- or to help the economy as much as many of the manufacturing jobs do." August unemployment in Buncombe County was 4.7 percent, down from 5.1 percent last August, while Henderson County's rate fell from 5 percent to 4.6 percent. In Haywood County, unemployment edged up slightly to 5.3 percent from 5.0 percent last August. Single-family home permits through June in Buncombe County totaled 429, up 20.2 percent from last year and the best total since 1988. Henderson and Haywood counties also reported their strongest year since 1988, with 291 and 138 homes permitted, respectively. Existing home sales in Asheville through August were up 24 percent, with the average price of a home up 4 percent. In Hendersonville, Realtors sold almost 30 percent more homes from May through June than last year. Apartment building in Buncombe, however, continues to be slow, with only 26 units permitted in the first half of the year. Retail sales in Buncombe County through June totaled $920.4 million, the best first half on record. Henderson County's sales were up 7.4 percent over the first six months of last year -- still not up to the level of 1989. Haywood's total of $189.1 million is a 2.9 percent increase over 1991 but still below the $197 million-mark of 1989 -- the year that Asheville's expanded retail space began attracting dollars from surrounding counties. One of the strongest segments within retail sales is new-car and truck sales -- up 4.2 percent for the three counties for the first eight months. With all three counties reporting July gains in the range of 20-35 percent, Harrison questioned the validity of a state-reported number showing vehicle sales declines of more than 30 percent for each of the counties in August. Tourism, another indicator of consumer behavior, has been mixed in Western North Carolina. "It illustrates better than any other sector the mixed, or sometimes almost erratic, nature of how consumers are acting in this atypical recovery," he said. "There is little pattern to tourism numbers through early fall." While the count at the visitor center here was up 17 percent in July and August, the gate count at Biltmore Estate was down in the same period. The number of visitors to the Smokey Mountains was 4 percent lower through August, but sales at Cherokee were up almost 14 percent through July, and August numbers are expected to be even better. Visits to the Blue Ridge Parkway sections just north and south of Asheville were up well over 50 percent in August. One indicator of both business and tourism growth here is boarding activity at Asheville Airport -- up 10.7 percent through August to 187,726 enplanements. In the commercial sector, construction permits in Buncombe County through June totaled $6.6 million. However, that figure does not yet include permits for the new jail, additions at Mission Memorial Hospital, the new water treatment plant and work on the Federal Building. "I still think it's going to be a record or near-record year here," Harrison said. "And in today's national economic climate, that's doubly exceptional." Although Henderson County's $7.1 million in commercial permits is down from $9.4 million last year, the total is higher than 1989 or 1990. Haywood permitted a record total of $2.1 million through June. In its forecast, First Union is calling for: -- Continued employment growth, with possibly some ups and downs in unemployment numbers until next spring; -- A fourth quarter of retail sales that's solid but not explosive and may not be strong enough to rescue some small retailers; -- Slight softness in new-car and truck sales when the early-fall numbers come in but then fairly consistent gains into spring; -- Good single-family home building that will continue into next year, picking up a good bit in the spring; -- A bust year in multifamily construction this year and next; -- A record or near-record year in 1992 for commercial construction. First Union tracks regional economies in North Carolina on an ongoing basis through its Perspectives program in Charlotte, the Triangle, the Triad and Southeastern North Carolina. First Union National Bank of North Carolina is a principal subsidiary of Charlotte-based First Union Corporation (NYSE: FTU FTUpr) and operates 270 offices in more than 140 North Carolina Communities. -0- 10/6/92 /CONTACT: (Media Contact) Sandy Deem of First Union Corporation, 704-374-2710 or 704-567-1176 (home)/ (FTU) CO: First Union Corporation ST: North Carolina IN: CST SU: ECO
CM -- CH005 -- 7110 10/06/92 13:32 EDT
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|Date:||Oct 6, 1992|
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