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TRIANGLE EMPLOYMENT REMAINS SOLID, HOME STARTS INCREASE

 TRIANGLE EMPLOYMENT REMAINS SOLID,
 HOME STARTS INCREASE
 RALEIGH, N.C., Feb. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- The number of jobs in the Raleigh-Durham MSA grew 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter, continuing a five-month growth pattern, while the Triangle continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.
 Single-family home starts and airport boardings also are up, while auto sales and commercial construction have declined. These are among the findings of the First Union Perspectives report on the Triangle economy released today.
 "This job growth underscores the resilience of our Triangle economy, and we're optimistic the growth will continue," said Jim Fain, First Union's Raleigh area executive. " Our December unemployment rate of 3.6 percent is almost as low as any county in the state experienced even during the best economic times. It's also encouraging to see improvement in the single-family home market, which could indicate that the consumer is beginning to participate in this recovery."
 Single-family home starts in Wake County were up 14.2 percent through November, with 3,518 permits. Durham County's permits dropped 8 percent to 838, while Orange County declined 2.8 percent to 455 permits. The only other major metropolitan areas in the state reporting gains were Guilford County, up 2.7 percent, and Cumberland, up 35.8 percent, compared to a weak 1990 when troops were deployed. Counties reporting declines included Meckleburg, down 18.7 percent, Buncombe, down 2.5 percent, and New Hanover, down 3.8 percent.
 Estimated employment in Raleigh-Durham in December was 408,700, up 0.2 from December 1990. December unemployment was 3.6 percent, compared to 2.9 percent a year earlier. About 15,300 people were estimated to be unemployed, 1,800 fewer than at the July unemployment peak. "While unemployment is painful for those individuals involved, we need to remember that unemployment of 3.0 percent is considered a labor shortage," Fain said.
 Nationally, unemployment in December reached 7.1 percent. Unemployment rates elsewhere in North Carolina are falling but remain higher than the Triangle. Other rates reported include Ashveille and the Triad, 4.8 percent; Charlotte, 5.1 percent; and Wilmington, 6.4 percent.
 Triangle car sales in 1991 also compared favorably to the rest of the state, dropping 2.9 percent in the Tri-county area -- a relatively modest decline; 36,635 units were registered. The only major metropolitan area reporting an increase in 1991 was Cumberland County, buoyed by returning Fort Bragg troops in the spring. Counties reporting declines in 1991 auto sales include Forsyth, down 14.5 percent; Guilford, down 11.7 percent; Buncombe, down 10.7 percent, and Mecklenburg, down 3.5 percent.
 "This could be the turn-around year for car sales," Fain said. "For every person who has refinanced his or her home with lower rates, there's another $200 or so of available income for purchases. And almost a third of the cars we're driving are 10 years or older and another 25 percent are 7 to 10 years old."
 Commercial construction in the Triangle declined 17.8 percent through November. Wake permited $134.5 million, a 38.6 percent drop year-to-date, and the lowest total since at least 1985.
 Durham County, reported a 25.6 percent increase in commercial construction over 1990, with $118 million permitted, but that figure is weaker than the average over the last seven years of $136 million. Orange County's $9.6 million was a 70.2 percent increase over the first 11 months of 1990. Fain said, however, that a lower rate of construction could be viewed as positive.
 "People didn't build more last year because they didn't need to build," he said. "The commercial construction market was well 'fed' in the late '80s, whether it was retail, office or industrial. Another damper on development, of course, is the restriction on credit, a healthy response to some of the problems in the commercial real estate sector in the past couple of years."
 In the multifamily sector, construction in the Triangle through November fell 54 percent. The 737 units permitted compared to 1,601 for the first 11 months of 1990.
 Boardings at Raleigh-Durham International Airport were 1 percent higher in 1991, with 4,698,543 enplanements.
 Estimated retail sales figures provided by the state through August totaled $3.346 billion in Wake County; $1.090 billion in Durham County and $422.8 million in Orange County. Those reports have been delayed by reporting problems resulting from the mid-year sales tax increase.
 Fain was optimistic for the Triangle's economic development prospects for the 1992. "This could be a strong year for economic development, with MCI and a couple of other solid prospects considering relocation to the Triangle," he said.
 The First Union Perspectives program also tracks the economy on an ongoing basis in Western North Carolina, Southeastern North Carolina, Charlotte 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 269 offices in more than 200 North Carolina Communities.
 -0- 2/6/92
 /CONTACT: (Media) Sandy Deem, First Union Corporation, 704-374-2710 (W) or 704-567-1176 (H)/
 (FTU) CO: First Union Corporation ST: North Carolina IN: FIN SU: ECO


CM -- CH008 -- 7777 02/06/92 13:36 EST
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Date:Feb 6, 1992
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