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GROWING EMPLOYMENT IN FAYETTEVILLE, WILMINGTON AREAS SPURS HOUSING DEMAND

 GROWING EMPLOYMENT IN FAYETTEVILLE,
 WILMINGTON AREAS SPURS HOUSING DEMAND
 FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., March 23 /PRNewswire/ -- Job growth is strong in Fayetteville and Wilmington, but unusual growth in the labor force -- apparently fueled by newcomers to the area -- is keeping unemployment relatively high.
 The growing labor force is spurring demand for housing, with both cities reporting some of the strongest home-building activity in five years. Airport travel in both cities is growing far above the national pace, and Cumberland County was the only major county in the state with increased car sales last year.
 These were among the highlights of the Perspectives economic briefing for Southeastern North Carolina presented here today by J. Ronald Hankins, First Union' Southeastern area executive.
 Hankins emphasized the significance of the growth in the labor force. Last year, the number of available workers in Fayetteville -- including the employed and unemployed -- grew an estimated 4.1 percent. Wilmington's work force grew almost 7 percent in the last half of the year, averaging 4.8 percent for the year.
 "What's going on here can't be explained away by saying spouses are entering the work force, workers are taking second jobs or discouraged workers are re-entering the work force. We believe we are seeing an unusual period of in- migration into both cities," Hankins said, citing major increases in inquiries from newcomers at both chambers.
 We have a growing number of jobs, and it appears we have a growing number of new neighbors who want good climate, better chances at good jobs and better quality of life," he said.
 The number of jobs in the Fayetteville MSA grew 2.2 percent last year, averaging 91,317. Growth continued in January, with 1.3 percent more jobs than last January. Wilmington reported 3 percent job growth in 1991, with 64,129 employed; January employment there was down 1 percent. Both cities set employment records last fall.
 Despite the growth in jobs, January unemployment rose to 6.9 percent in Fayetteville and 7.4 percent in Wilmington -- both higher than the state and national rates. That uptick in January is typical of the normal seasonal increase.
 1991 also was a good year for the housing market. Home building in Cumberland County increased 45.4 percent, with 1,444 single-family homes permitted, the most since 1986. New Hanover County permitted 1,134 homes. That's down 1.7 percent from 1990 but is still the second-highest level in five years. The inventory of existing homes in Fayetteville has dropped more than 15 percent from a year ago.
 Permitting for multifamily housing in Cumberland County was up 31.6 percent over 1990, with 250 units permitted. New Hanover permitted 137 units, a 33.8 percent decrease.
 "Fayetteville is one of the few cities in the U.S. showing an increase in apartment building," Hankins said. "Occupancy continues to run 100 percent here, with waiting lists, and rents have gone up 12-15 percent. We'll see much more multifamily construction here this year, and it should be a stronger apartment-development year in Wilmington too."
 Commercial construction activity, however, was not as strong. Nonresidential permitting was down 30.4 percent for the year in Cumberland, totaling $22.8 million, and down 29.1 percent in New Hanover, totaling $27.4 million. Hankins said, however, that adequate supply generally makes that level of activity appropriate.
 A good barometer of the business climate, he said, is airport activity. Boardings in Fayetteville increased 7.5 percent last year to 201,072, despite a weak first quarter. Through February, boardings are up more than 22 percent, compared to the weak Desert Storm months last year. Wilmington's boardings were up 14 percent last year to 189,220 and are up 27.8 percent through this February.
 "It's a good general economic indicator for our airports to be busier when most of the fields where America's struggling airlines land are barely breaking even on their boarding statistics," Hankins said.
 On the consumer side, Hankins said retailers surveyed in the area are reporting consistently stronger sales since Jan. 1, with some reporting increases before Christmas. Sales through October, the most recent available from the state, totaled $1.52 billion in Cumberland County and $1.36 billion in New Hanover.
 New car sales were up 7.5 percent last year in Cumberland County to 9,615. January sales totaled 824, up 58.8 percent over a weak January last year. 1991 car sales in New Hanover County totaled 4,888, an 8 percent decline. In January, 325 new cars were sold there, a 23.9 percent drop from last January.
 "Cumberland was the only major county in the state with improved car sales," Hankins said. "Even though sales were up last year, it still was the second-lowest year on our charts. We are not necessarily the bellwether of an uptick in the automobile business. We are the beneficiaries of the dollars that came back from Desert Storm."
 Hankins said statistics for new-car registrations may have been misleading for the past couple of years because many buyers have purchased nearly new cars that had been used by rental companies or fleets.
 Looking to the rest of 1992, First Union's forecasts calls for:
 -- Unusually strong home building in the Fayetteville
 market. Home building will edge up somewhat at best
 in New Hanover;
 -- A record year for apartments and condos in
 Fayetteville and a strong year in the Wilmington
 area;
 -- No major growth in commercial construction in either
 market;
 -- Continued increases in boardings at both airports,
 although the rate of growth will taper somewhat by
 the fall;
 -- Slightly improved car sales;
 -- Somewhat improved retail sales;
 -- Increases in employment and a growing labor force in
 both areas.
 The First Union Perspectives report also tracks the economy on an ongoing basis in Charlotte, the Triangle, the Triad and Western North Carolina.
 First Union National Bank of North Carolina is a principal subsidiary of Charlotte-based First Union Corporation (NYSE: FTU FTUpr) and operates 269 banking offices in more than 140 North Carolina communities.
 -0- 3/23/92
 /CONTACT: Media Contact - Sandy Deem, First Union Corporation, 704-374-2710 (w) or 704-567-1176 (H)/
 (FTU FTUpr) CO: First Union Corporation ST: North Carolina IN: FIN SU: ECO


DF -- CH002 -- 0613 03/23/92 13:30 EST
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Date:Mar 23, 1992
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