BOONE—Economic activity in Western North Carolina increased by 0.4 points in October, marking the sixth consecutive monthly increase in the index that tracks the level of economic activity in 25 western North Carolina counties. The increase returned the Western North Carolina Economic Index to its pre-recession level.
“This is certainly promising,” said Dr. Todd Cherry, director of the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis (CEPA) at Appalachian State University. “During the last six months we have seen consistently strong gains in regional economic activity. Such sustained improvements are needed to realize better job market conditions and this appears to be playing out now with the region adding about 15,000 jobs in the past two months.”
According to the index, all counties across the WNC region experienced increases in seasonally adjusted county-level employment. “While improvements in the job market have occurred across the region, some areas have gained more than others,” Cherry said. The largest employment gains occurred in McDowell, Yancey and Graham counties with 6.8, 3.7 and 2.4 percent increases, respectively.
Seasonally adjusted WNC unemployment registered 9.4 percent in October – a decrease of 0.2 points over the previous month, and down 1.7 points from one year ago. The state unemployment rate decreased to 9.3 percent while the national rate rose 0.1 points to 7.9 percent.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate within the region’s rural counties decreased by 0.4 points to 10.6 percent in October. In the region’s metro areas, unemployment fell by 0.3 points in Asheville and by 0.4 points in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir, to 7.3 and 10.4 percent, respectively.
County-level seasonally adjusted unemployment rates were highest in Graham, Swain and Rutherford counties with rates at 16.5, 14.0 and 12.7 percent, respectively. Rates were lowest in Henderson, Buncombe and Polk counties (6.9, 7.1 and 7.2 percent).
Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates decreased in 19 of the 25 WNC counties. Rutherford, Graham and Transylvania recorded the largest decreases in unemployment rates with a 0.7, 0.6 and 0.6 point decrease, respectively). Ashe, Macon and Alexander had the largest increases (0.5, 0.5 and 0.2 point gains).
Looking over the last 12-month period, all but one WNC county experienced decreases in unemployment. Unemployment rates in Caldwell, McDowell and Catawba decreased the most over this period by 3.3, 2.7 and 2.5 points, respectively. Ashe County recorded the only increase (0.1 point).
Seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance in the region, a leading indicator of unemployment, increased by 12.1 percent in October. Initial claims decreased by 2.4 percent in Asheville but increased by 13.2 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.
The WNC Economic Index and Report is a cooperative effort by the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis at Appalachian State University and Advantage West. The report is compiled and written by Dr. John W. Dawson, an associate professor in Appalachian’s Department of Economics, and Dr. O. Ashton Morgan, an assistant professor in the department.