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WNC Economy Grows in March; Jobs Created Across the Region

BOONE–The month of March delivered good economic news for the western counties in the state, according to the Western North Carolina Economic Index and Report.

Economic activity in western North Carolina increased 0.4 percent in March. The regional economy grew at an annual rate of 4.8 percent in the first quarter of 2004, besting the national economy that grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent during this period.

The index is compiled by economist Todd Cherry and others at Appalachian State University.

The economic growth was accompanied with job gains in March. Regional seasonally adjusted employment for the region grew by 0.7 percent, just slightly behind the state increase of 0.8 percent.

” The region continues on a path of strong growth,” Cherry said of the March numbers. “This has been the trend for the past year, but March provides the strongest indicators to date that the economy is gaining solid footing. Jobs were created and unemployment declined in every corner of the region. Such strong and consistent improvement in the labor market is good news considering job creation has been slow to emerge in this recovery.”

Asheville’s employment grew by 0.5 percent in March while Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir recorded a 0.4 percent increase in employment.

The seasonally adjusted rate of unemployment for the region decreased 0.4 percentage points to 5.3 percent in March. The adjusted state unemployment rate decreased 0.8 points to 5.2, and the national rate increased 0.1 points to 5.7.

Lower unemployment was recorded across the region’s rural and metro areas. The unemployment rate in rural counties fell by 0.6 percentage points to 5.0 in March. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined by 0.4 points to 3.2 percent in Asheville and fell 0.8 points to 7.3 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

” The breadth of the unemployment decline is noteworthy,” Cherry said. “Over the past month and year, unemployment is down in 24 of the region’s 25 counties.” Most notably, McDowell County had the largest drop in unemployment in March, declining 2.28 percentage points. Alleghany County has had the largest decline over the past 12 months, falling 4.88 points.

Cherry noted that employment gains in March were also broad but more is needed to recover from past job losses.

The regional job outlook may continue to improve because seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance, a leading indicator of unemployment, decreased 11 percent across the region. Claims increased 4.2 percent in Asheville and decreased 8.5 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

The WNC Economic Index and Report provides a monthly account of economic conditions for Western North Carolina. It typically is released the fifth week following each month. For more information, visit www.business.appstate.edu/wncindex.asp.

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

Cherry is assisted by co-authors John Dawson of the Walker College of Business and College of Arts and Sciences professor Rich Crepeau.

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