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CHARLOTTE ECONOMY BOOSTED BY JOB GROWTH, HEALTHY AUTO SALES, STRONG AIRPORT ACTIVITY

 CHARLOTTE ECONOMY BOOSTED BY JOB GROWTH,
 HEALTHY AUTO SALES, STRONG AIRPORT ACTIVITY
 CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- Job growth in the Charlotte MSA has averaged 1.4 percent in the first nine months, and unemployment has declined for three months since its peak of 6.2 percent in June.
 Auto and retail sales also are up, home-building is strong, and airport boardings through September showed their highest growth in at least six years. These were among the highlights reported at the First Union Perspectives economic briefing today by Lee Keesler, First Union's Charlotte area executive.
 "Charlotte and the surrounding region continue to outperform the state and national economies," Keesler said. "Steadily improving job numbers will fuel faster economic growth in 1993, but this recovery will continue to be fragmented and erratic in nature."
 Through September, the average number of people working in the MSA each month was 617,100 -- 1.4 percent higher than last year. September unemployment in the seven-county MSA, including Mecklenburg, Gaston, Cabarrus, Lincoln, Rowan, Union and York counties, was 5.1 percent, the same as last year. That represents an estimated 33,800 people looking for work. Nationally, September unemployment was 7.2 percent.
 "Our relatively low unemployment rate is significant, considering the unusual growth we've had in our workforce here since last year," Keesler said. "The number of people available for work here -- whether working or job-hunting -- has grown by an estimated average of 1.8 percent in the past 12 months. That compares with a workforce that declined by 0.5 percent in the previous 12 months."
 Keesler also noted that the number of weeks of unemployment compensation paid in the seven-county area compared with last year has been falling consistently since December. In manufacturing, the clear trend since April has been toward longer hours, especially in some textiles. Construction employment also is growing.
 Stabilizing employment is boosting Mecklenburg's new-car and truck sales, which totaled 31,010 through September -- a 10.5 percent increase over last year. That higher number of vehicles sold represents a 25 percent increase in income for car dealers, given a 6.3 percent increase in the average vehicle price.
 "Do not assume that this signals a clear rebound in the car business here, however," Keesler said. "While the general trend is up, and we have registered more new cars and trucks through September than we did in the first three quarters of 1991 or 1990, it's an erratic pattern of sales."
 Car and truck sales have boosted retail sales overall. Through July, the most recent numbers available from the state, retail sales in Mecklenburg County totaled $5.1 billion, up 6 percent over last year. However, that total is still lower than the same period in 1989, before the recession started. At the same time, more retailers are sharing the dollars spent. Surrounding counties are showing stronger gains, such as the 14.3 percent jump in Union County. Keesler offered one theory for this pattern.
 "The impact of this recessionary period has been heavy in the white-collar portion of the economy -- and Charlotte is very much a white-collar town," Keesler said. "An unusually high 25 percent or so of our unemployment rolls here are made up of professional or technical people. Recessionary times are new to many white-collar, service sector employees. Foregoing purchases and deferring spending is a new experience for them -- and retailers are feeling the impact."
 Home-building continues to be a bright spot. Through August, Mecklenburg County permitted 3,092 single-family homes, up 31.4 percent over last year.
 "Most of those houses were under contract before the first nail was driven," Keesler said. "This is not a boom driven by speculative construction.
 "Builders are being appropriately cautious. The market is good, but the inventory still is relatively low -- and permits are predominantly below $150,000. All these conservative factors mean this strong year isn't apt to be followed by a building bust, but rather by continued, even stronger construction activity."
 Multifamily construction continues to be slow, with 424 permits in the county through August -- the slowest year since at least pre-1985. Rents must rise and vacancies must fall to support new projects, Keesler said.
 On the commercial side, nonresidential permits through August totaled $129.5 million through August, a 5.2 percent gain over last year. Keesler said he expects the third quarter to show a strong gain over the same period last year. Of the last eight quarters, that would be only the second quarter showing a year-to-year increase.
 "The gains I expect us to show by the end of the year will prove we are picking up the pace again and are in a measured, positive recovery in large-scale construction here," Keesler said.
 At Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, boardings were up 14.8 percent through September to 7,026,788. "This year-to-year increase is the greatest we've seen since the big surge from 1985 to 1986 when the hub was being developed here," Keesler said.
 In its Charlotte Perspectives forecast, First Union is calling for:
 --A much firmer employment picture overall, with average total
 employment by next spring that surpasses pre-recession levels;
 --Retail sales in the fourth quarter that are 6-8 percent higher
 than last year, with more solid gains coming in the second half
 next year, as employment levels rise;
 --Car and light truck sales that will continue to improve, with the
 wildly up-and-down nature of the business smoothing out late next
 year;
 --Single-family home-building next year that will surpass this
 year--with the sale of existing homes likely to do the same;
 --Some pick-up in multifamily construction, especially toward the
 end of 1993.
 --Commercial construction values that will continue to build on this
 year's gains, possibly getting back to the strong 1986-87 levels;
 --Airport boardings that will not grow as rapidly but that could set
 a record of 10 million boardings in 1993;
 The First Union Perspectives program also tracks the economy on an ongoing basis in Western North Carolina, Southeastern North Carolina, the Triangle and the Triad. Results are reported for each area three times per year.
 First Union National Bank of North Carolina is a principal subsidiary of Charlotte-based First Union Corporation (NYSE: FTU FTUpr) and operates 247 offices in some 200 North Carolina communities.
 -0- 11/11/92
 /CONTACT: Sandy Deem, First Union Corporation, 704-374-2710/
 (FTU) CO: First Union Corporation ST: North Carolina IN: FIN SU: ECO


MM -- CH004 -- 9752 11/11/92 13:01 EST
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Date:Nov 11, 1992
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