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Regional Economy Showing Signs of Life

BOONE–Economic activity in western North Carolina marked the first significant growth in six months during March, according to the Western North Carolina Economic Index, which rose 0.4 percent in March to 121.7, the highest level in two years.

The monthly index and report, compiled by Appalachian State University professors Todd Cherry, John Dawson and Rich Crepeau, tracks economic conditions in the 25 western North Carolina counties.

“While it is still too early to claim the regional economy is back on track, western North Carolina is showing signs that things are getting better,” said Cherry, an associate professor of economics in Appalachian’s Walker College of Business. “The data are promising and correspond with positive indicators at the state and national levels.”

Employment for the region was virtually unchanged, but the number of counties experiencing job growth more than doubled from the previous month. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the region was 6% in March, representing a 0.5 percentage point increase from February.

“The increased unemployment rate is due to more people seeking jobs rather than losing jobs, and this activity suggests growing optimism about employment prospects in the region,” Cherry said.

March unemployment in the region’s metropolitan areas remained unchanged at 3.5% in Asheville and increased 0.3 percentage points to 7.9% in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

According to the report, regional consumer spending declined slightly in March but has increased a healthy 4.4% for the past year compared to a 2.4% growth in consumer spending nationally.

The WNC Economic Index and Report is a cooperative effort by AdvantageWest-North Carolina, and Appalachian’s Walker College of Business and Appalachian Regional Development Institute.

The index and accompanying report typically is released the fifth week following each month. It is available on the Web at www.business.appstate.edu/wncindex.asp.

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Contact: Todd L. Cherry, (828) 262-2148