Employment outlook brightens in WNC

Published 9:12 pm Friday, January 7, 2011

The job market shows more signs of improvement in Western North Carolina as the number of people working in the Asheville metropolitan area increased for the third straight month in October, according to U.S. employment data.

The metropolitan area, which includes Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties, had 2,400 more people employed in October compared to October 2009, an increase of 1.5 percent. The areas jobless rate fell to 7.4 percent in October, down from 8.7 percent a year earlier.

Rick Elingburg, head of the Asheville office of the N.C. Employment Security Commission, said he thinks things are starting to turn around. Job market analysts said improvement in national economic conditions is contributing to the positive trend regionally.

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Despite the improvements, unemployment in the Asheville metropolitan area remains well above pre-recession levels. The area had a jobless rate of just 3.2 percent in October of 2006.


Arvato Digital Services, a division of Arvato AG headquartered in Germany, is bringing more jobs to Buncombe County. The company plans to create 408 jobs and invest $1.8 million in a Weaverville call center facility over the next three years. A $200,000 job incentives grant from the state will help Arvato shift its focus toward customer service by expanding the call center, according to Gov. Bev Perdue. Arvato provides a range of services to business partners in the IT, high-tech, gaming, video and audio sectors, and currently employs about 575 in Weaverville.

Hans Peter Hlsktter, CEO of Arvato Digital Services, said, We are honored to launch this new project in Weaverville, one that would not have been feasible without the presence of a highly capable workforce in the area, the continued success of our current operations and employees, and the invaluable support of the state and county.

Salaries will vary by job function at Arvato, but the average annual wage for the new jobs will be $26,143, not including benefits. Thats slightly below the Buncombe County average annual wage of $32,968.

The N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Community Colleges and Buncombe County partnered on the Arvato expansion project. The state grant came from the One NC Fund, which the state said has helped create more than 45,000 jobs and $8 billion in investments since 2001.


State grants helped secure a $36 million investment in Wake County, N.C., by Novartis, a global leader in vaccines and diagnostics for human therapeutics and diagnostic testing. The company plans to add a development lab and pilot plant at the site of its pandemic and seasonal flu production facility in Holly Springs. The expansion will create 100 new jobs, according to the state, which provided incentives through the Job Development Investment Grant program and the One North Carolina Fund. The overall average wage for the new jobs will be $106.200, not including benefits.

Novartis will receive a $1 million grant from the One NC Fund if it meets job creation and investment targets. The grant requires a local match. The states Economic Investment Committee also approved a Job Development Investment Grant, which is awarded only to new and expanding businesses and industrial projects whose benefits exceed the costs to the state and which would not be undertaken in North Carolina without the grant. The Job Development Investment Grant programs provides a grant equal to 65 percent of the state personal income withholding taxes derived from the creation of new jobs for each of the nine years in which the company meets annual performance targets. Novartis is eligible to receive up to $2.7 million in benefits through the program for its latest expansion.


BAE Systems, Inc., an aerospace, defense and security company, is opening a service center in the Charlotte area thats expected to create 176 jobs. The company, which received a Job Development Investment Grant from the state, plans to invest $3 million in the project.

Linda Hudson, president and CEO of BAE Systems, Inc., said Charlotte was selected after a nationwide search for a location with skilled talent, easy access, suitable facilities and an affordable lifestyle. The overall average wage for the new jobs will be $51,392 a year (not including benefits), which is slighty above the average wage in Mecklenburg County of $48,776.


Home tax values will not be nearly as high as previously expected when Mecklenburg County appraisers complete the countys 2011 property revaluation. The tax assessors office had expected values to climb by an average of 20 percent or more above the last revaluation in 2003. However, appraisers now say it appears the increase will be only about 8 percent because of the weak housing market.

A surge in the number of foreclosures has depressed home values as the county tax assessors office nears completion of the revaluation of 285,000 residential properties. The office reports that bank seizures and sales have soared to more than 4,300 this year, an increase of about 40 percent over record levels between 2007 and 2009.

Appraisers said their task is especially difficult this year because of the low number of sales and an evolving market. The tax office said it had 19,000 home sales that qualified for comparison in the 2003 revaluation, but it has only 6,500 for this one, and some neighborhoods have had few or no sales this year to use as a guide for values.

According to figures from Carolina Multiple Listing Services, sales of single-family homes in November were down about 35 percent compared to November 2009. Only 608 sales were recorded in the county in November, down from 935 in November 2009, 1,185 in November 2007 and 1,542 in November 2006.

Appraisers said the weak housing market will result in lower than expected tax values and property taxes for homeowners, but will also reflect how much equity homeowners have lost since the recession began.


Duke Energy customers in the Carolinas set a winter record for electricity usage during a cold spell earlier this month. The Charlotte-based utility said it generated 17,570 megawatts of electricity between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Dec. 15, nearly 300 megawatts more than the previous winter peak on Jan. 11. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature on Dec. 14 dropped to 11 degrees in the Greenville-Spartanburg area, tying a record low set in 1917. Duke said customers should expect to see higher bills this month due to the spike in usage.


A real estate firm from Maryland has purchased the former Allen Bennett Memorial Hospital for $1.4 million from the City of Greer.

Cardinal Real Estate Group said it plans to redevelop the 10-acre campus into a senior living facility and bring a government call center to the site. The group said the $14.2 million project will result in 100 jobs at the senior living facility and 50 at the call center that will serve the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Construction is expected to begin at the campus in January and conclude in October. The call center, which is being relocated from Maryland, is expected to open in the summer. The real estate group is also working on a project to create a retirement community at the former Union Mill property in Union, which could create 100 jobs, and is working to open two restaurants in the Upstate.

The new retirement community will include 18 independent living units, 110 assisted-living units and 32 units for Alzheimers patients.


Century Golf Partners has acquired a resort package with five golf courses in Myrtle Beach that were previously owned by GE Capital. Century partnered with Peter Ueberroth and the Contrarian Group to purchase courses, which include The Legends in Myrtle Beach, The Heritage Club in Pawleys Island and Oyster Bay in Sunset Beach, N.C. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Jim Hinckley, CEO of and president of Century Golf Partners, said he expects many more golf course and private club acquisitions from this relationship with Contrarian and he has great respect for Ueberroth, the former commission of Major League Baseball.

Ueberroth, who previously led the purchase of the Pebble Beach resort in 1999, said the Myrtle Beach investment is an outstanding starting point in our going forward golf strategy with Century.


A new solar energy station in Myrtle Beach will be the largest solar power installation in South Carolina. Santee Cooper said it is planning to install 1,300 solar panels on top of buildings and one the ground next to the Myrtle Beach Service Center. The Grant Strand Solar Station will generate enough power for about 30 homes and will increase the amount of solar power the utility generates in the state by 50 percent. All of the power generated by the project will be sent to the electrical grid used by all customers in the state.

The project was made possible by a $475,000 grant from the S.C. Energy Office and about $500,000 from Santee Coopers Green Power program, which lets customers buy renewable energy at an added cost. Santee said the project will demonstrate the capabilities of solar energy on a fairly large scale, and the utility will have information at the site to educate the project about solar energy.


Agents with the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety seized hundreds of gallons of moonshine after raiding locations in three counties last week. The department said it seized 255 gallons of the illegally made liquor in Benson and destroyed nearly 4,000 gallons of mash. About 294 gallons of liquor were found in Warrenton and six gallons in Hollister. Agents also seized cash and personal property and made multiple arrests.


Charleston, S.C. is hosting the 30th anniversary of the Renaissance Weekend that gathers leaders from across the nation in the fields of politics, science, medicine, law and art. The event, which includes 500 lectures, seminars, discussions and performances, will conclude with a song at the stroke of the New Year. Event founder Phil Lader said Renaissance Weekend has always been a celebration of the power of ideas and relationships.

This years event includes outed former CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, Physics Nobel laureate Bill Phillips, Space Shuttle commander Mark Kelly, astronaut Joan Higginbotham, Obama administration Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowski and Tiananmen Square revolt leader Li Lu, among many others. &bsp;

Lader said ideas generated from the event have spurred many participants to start businesses, found nonprofit organizations and create private foundations since the first nonpartisan retreat was held in 1981. This year participants will discuss a range of topics such as Restoring the American Dream, What Christians Dont Understand about Islam, Is Estrogen the new Ritalin? The Coarsening of American Culture and Making Sense of the Wine List.

Other attendees this year include former Interior secretaries Bruce Babbitt and Dirk Kempthorne, Pulitzer Price-winning journalists Charles Savage and Alex Jones, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, former congressman, NBA player, Olympian and Rhodes scholar Tom McMillen and Passages author Gail Sheehy.