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New Economic Index Tracks WNC Economy

By Jason Hoyle

BOONE–Western North Carolina’s economy declined slightly in January, according to a new Western North Carolina Economic Index and Report compiled by Appalachian State University professors. But while the region’s overall economy dropped 0.3 percent from December 2002 data, 21 of the region’s 25 counties experienced job growth, with the most notable gains in Hickory and the surrounding area.

The new index was unveiled today at a luncheon hosted in Asheville by AdvantageWest-North Carolina and the university’s Walker College of Business.

The Western North Carolina Economic Index and Report will be released monthly. It looks at the region’s unemployment numbers, retail sales and the general health of the area’s economy.

The index is compiled by Dr. Todd L. Cherry and Dr. John W. Dawson in the Walker College of Business’s Department of Economics and Dr. Richard Crepeau with the Department of Geography and Planning in the College of Arts and Sciences.

According to January data, the area’s economy declined 0.3 percent, even though unemployment in the region shrank 1.7 percent to 5.7 percent in January. The unemployment rate is slightly below the state’s 6.1 percent unemployment numbers and equal to the national rate.

The index encompasses 25 of the state’s western counties, including the Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir and the Asheville Metro areas. It provides historical analysis of regional GDP, unemployment and employment rates, and leading economic indicators such as building permits and unemployment insurance.

The report also illustrates the differences in economic conditions found within the region’s 25 counties. For instance, Watauga County had the lowest January unemployment rate at 2.3 percent, while Transylvania and Rutherford counties had the highest at approximately 9 percent. Retail sales grew more then 15 percent in Polk and Watauga counties while the foothill counties saw declines in retail activities.

Initiated by the Appalachian Regional Development Institute at Appalachian, the index is supported by AdvantageWest-North Carolina and Appalachian’s Walker College of Business.

The information it provides will enhance government and business leaders’ ability to better understand current economic conditions, according to Cherry. “Data coming from different sources at different times make it difficult to interpret the many factors affecting the regional economy. The index pulls together available information to provide a single economic snapshot at a given point in time,” Cherry said.

Data about WNC’s economy is maintained in numerous government departments and is reported several months after-the-fact.

“By having a better grasp of current conditions, policymakers will be better equipped to respond to local and regional issues. The goal is to foster better economic policy which will translate into better standards of living for the region,” said Cherry. “The better we understand where we are, the better we can focus on where we want to be in the future.”

The WNC Economic Index and accompanying report is released at the beginning of each month and is available on the Web at


About the WNC Economic Index Sponsors:

With more than 2,300 students, the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University is one of the largest business schools in North Carolina. It offers majors in nine undergraduate programs and an MBA and MS in accounting. The college is particularly noted for its accounting, economics, banking and finance programs, and this year added an international business degree program.

The Appalachian Regional Development Institute (ARDI) is an applied research and public service program of Appalachian State University. Through ARDI, the university makes its resources, faculty and professional staff available to address economic, business, government and social issues and problems related to regional development.

Chartered by the N.C. General Assembly in 1994, AdvantageWest is western North Carolina’s public/private economic development partnership. Governed by a diverse board of directors from across the region, AdvantageWest has leveraged more than $400 million in investments through matching grant programs and regional initiatives. To learn more visit



Todd L. Cherry, (828) 262-2148

John N. Dawson, (828) 262-6128

Rich Crepeau, (828) 262-7052