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CHARLOTTE EMPLOYMENT AT RECORD HIGHS; CAR SALES STRONGEST IN FOUR YEARS

 CHARLOTTE, N.C., March 11 /PRNewswire/ -- Employment in the Charlotte MSA has been at record highs in the last four months, showing its greatest growth since the second quarter of 1989. January unemployment dropped to 5.4 percent, compared to 6.3 percent in the state and 7.9 percent in the nation.
 Mecklenburg new-car and truck sales last year were the highest since 1988 and continued to grow in January. 1992 is also expected to be a record year here for home-building when final numbers are reported, and sales of existing homes through February were up almost 35 percent. Boardings at Charlotte Douglas International Airport set a record overall last year but have declined in the last several months. Multifamily and commercial construction continue to be slow.
 These were among the highlights reported at the First Union Perspectives economic briefing today by Lee Keesler, First Union's Charlotte regional executive.
 "Improvement in the employment picture is good news because jobs fuel the economy," Keesler said. "The influx of newcomers moving here and the number of new college graduates choosing Charlotte show that our area continues to be an attractive place for folks to live and work."
 Charlotte has experienced unusual growth in its workforce. The number of people available for work here -- whether working or job-hunting -- grew by an estimated average of 1.9 percent last year, or almost 12,500 workers more each month than the same month a year earlier. That compares with a workforce that grew only 0.1 percent in 1991 and declined 0.5 percent in 1990.
 In January, the number of people working in the seven-county MSA -- including Mecklenburg, Gaston, Cabarrus, Lincoln, Rowan, Union and York counties -- was 616,600, or 2.2 percent more than a year ago. Manufacturing jobs grew about 1.5 percent, while service-producing jobs rose 3.8 percent. Manufacturing employment has probably grown more than the numbers would indicate because many industrial firms are using temporary workers and those jobs are reported in the service sector, Keesler noted. Overall, temporary hiring increased to 34,100 in January, up 7.3 percent from a year ago.
 "Temporary hiring is booming," Keesler said. "There seems to be a change of philosophy among many employers who, in addition to their core workforce, have begun to outsource more of their work, perhaps 10-20 percent. That increase is important because it not only represents additional jobs but also seems to indicate a fundamental change in the way people are hired -- a change that companies in Europe started making four to five years ago."
 A major change in the car industry is also helping boost sales in Mecklenburg County, which enjoyed the second-strongest gain in the state last year. Fewer program cars are available to compete with new-car sales. Program cars are vehicles sold to rental-car companies or large fleet buyers that get turned back after only a few thousand miles and are resold through dealers as nearly-new cars.
 "Everyone agrees now that program sales have hurt new-car sales, and so manufacturers quit selling to fleets on sweetheart terms late last year," Keesler said. "Now when those cars are resold, they'll more likely have 18-25,000 miles on them instead of only 9-15,000 as in the past. The program cars available now will be more like good, used cars, and there will be fewer of them."
 Mecklenburg County registered 40,893 new cars and trucks last year, a 10.9 percent gain over 1991 and the best year since 1988. Mecklenburg's gain was second only to Wake County's 12.9 percent gain. Strong sales here continued in January with a 4.8 percent gain over last January.
 Retail sales in the county were up 6.8 percent through November, the latest number available from the state. However, the total dollar volume of $8.116 billion barely topped the pre-recession levels of 1989, when sales for the first 11 months totaled $8.084 billion. Other metropolitan areas in the state, such as Asheville and Greensboro, experienced similar increases in the 6 percent range, while Winston-Salem, Raleigh and Fayetteville reported gains greater than 8.5 percent.
 "Retailers here tell us that sales have been strong since Jan. 1 and are more profitable because they include much less markdown merchandise," Keesler said.
 Home-building in Mecklenburg continues to be strong, with single-family permits up 32.8 percent to 4,178 homes through November (the latest numbers available from the state).
 The Homebuilders Association already says 1992 was a record year, driven by the lowest interest rates in 20 years. MLS sales of existing homes in 1992 were up 33.4 percent to 9,809, and continued with a 34.3 percent gain through February this year.
 "In fact, home sales have been so strong, that builders are talking about shortages of lots," Keesler said. "The low supply of lumber is also a concern, resulting from Hurricane Andrew reconstruction, wet weather, and environmental restrictions related to the spotted owl. Since October, lumber prices have gone up 75 percent."
 Multifamily permitting continues to be slow, with only 502 units permitted through November, a 31.2 percent decline over a weak 1991. By comparison, 1,844 units were permitted in the first 11 months of 1990, and 4,465 for the same period in 1989.
 "It is notable, however, that our apartment vacancy rate dropped from 10.2 percent last May to 7.1 percent in November at the same time we added nearly 5,000 new houses in the market," Keesler said.
 Commercial construction was up 14.3 percent to $192.9 million through November but was still at one of the lowest levels since before the mid-1980s. The total included about $18 million in church projects, $22.4 million for the new jail and about $20 million in warehouse projects.
 Distribution facilities are not the only growing area of economic development in Charlotte. International firms have also increased by more than 10 percent for the second year in a row. The Chamber says that activity has "taken off like a rocket," and expects record totals again in the first quarter for new and expanding firms.
 Growing distribution operations in Charlotte resulted in freight enplanements that increased 24 percent at Charlotte Douglas International Airport last year. Last year's boardings increased 8.3 percent to a record 9,129,963. However, boardings dropped 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter and dropped 7.4 percent in January. The number of flights in January was down from 506 to 477, reflecting a lower level of USAir operations with the new Pittsburgh hub and discontinuation of Lufthansa flights since October.
 In its forecast, First Union is calling for:
 --Employment to set new records each month, with the rate of growth determined by the revision of last year's numbers; unemployment in the Charlotte MSA to continue declining through the year, with the actual rate determined by how labor statisticians apply 1990 census figures;
 --Retail sales to grow 6-8 percent through the first three quarters, but not quite so strong comparatively in the fourth quarter;
 --New-car and truck registrations to rise 10-15 percent for the year, picking up steam in the second quarter;
 --Single-family home construction permits and MLS sales that will outpace 1992, growing at about the same rate as last year;
 --Multifamily housing permits to increase, perhaps to about 1,000, with activity building mainly during the second half of the year; 1994 will be a much stronger multifamily year;
 --New nonresidential construction permit values that could be as much as 25-30 percent higher this year than last;
 --Charlotte-Douglas International Airport boardings that will lag or about match last year's totals by year-end, with freight activity increasing 15-20 percent.
 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. First Union National Bank of North Carolina is a principal subsidiary of Charlotte-based First Union Corporation (NYSE: FTU FTUpr) and operates 269 offices in some 200 North Carolina communities.
 -0- 3/11/93
 /CONTACT: (Media) Sandy Deem of First Union Corporation, 704-374-2710/
 (FTU)


CO: First Union Corporation ST: North Carolina IN: FIN SU: ECO

MM -- CH004 -- 5117 03/11/93 13:01 EST
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