Around the region: Building activity in November boosts N.C. economic index

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, January 5, 2012

An increase in building activity helped improve economic conditions in North Carolina in November, according to the North Carolina State University (NCSU) economic index.
The NCSU Index of North Carolina Leading Economic Indicators jumped 1.9 percent in November compared to October. It was the second straight month that the index rose, and it also showed an improvement over last year. The index was up 1.3 percent compared to November 2010.
The improvement in November was due, in part, to a 40-percent rise in the number of building permits issued compared to October. Building permits were also up nearly 26 percent compared to November of 2010.
All five components of the index, which was created by NCSU economist Michael Walden, showed improvement in November. Unemployment claims were down 13.8 percent compared to October and down 7.5 percent compared to November 2010. Hours worked and earnings also rose slightly for North Carolina employees in manufacturing in November compared to both the previous month and the same time last year.
Walden said the rising index indicates the state should see a continued economic turnaround this year.
“It certainly doesn’t mean we’re going to see the unemployment rate go down to 5 percent, but it looks like we may start the year with a more robust economy than we’re used to,” said Walden.
He adds that he expects the state’s unemployment rate will fall from 10 percent currently to 9 percent later this year.
“I’m predicting we’ll see 40,000 to 50,000 jobs created in North Carolina in 2012, compared to the 20,000 created in 2011,” he said.
Walden’s report showed mixed results in the state’s real estate market. The strongest performance in November was seen in the mountains region, where sales were up 2 percent and prices were up an average of 4 percent over October. Average prices were also up in the coastal plains region and the piedmont region, rising on average 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively. However, sales were down 7 percent in the Coastal Plains and 8 percent in the Piedmont.
– source: NCSU economic index; Winston-Salem Journal, 12/3/12;, 12/2/12
UNC-Chapel Hill is the best value among all public universities in the nation, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.
UNC-Chapel Hill, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 18,579, topped the magazine’s annual ranking for the 11th consecutive year.
Kiplinger said UNC-Chapel Hill has a highly competitive admission rate (32 percent) and low student-faculty ratio (14), which contribute to the university’s high four-year graduation rate (76 percent). The magazine also says UNC-Chapel Hill has a “moderate sticker price” ($17,628 total in-state cost) and offers generous financial aid. An average of about $11,000 in aid annually is provided to students who qualify. The average debt at graduation from the university is $16,165.
The university also ranks as the no. 1 value for out-of-state students, says Kiplinger. The average need-based aid for out-of-staters is $11,080, reducing the total cost to $26,374.
Other North Carolina public universities also made Kiplinger’s top 100 list this year. UNC-Wilmington came in 15th, N.C. State University was 19th, Appalachian State was 33rd and North Carolina School of the Arts was 41st.
UNC-Asheville came in 45th for in-state and 60th for out-of-state. The ranking showed UNC-Asheville has an admission rate of 77 percent and a four-year graduation rate of 30 percent. The total cost per year for in-state students at UNC-Asheville is $13,645 and the average debt at graduation is $15,443.
Among private universities in the country, Kiplinger placed three North Carolina institutions on its top 200 list. Duke University had the highest ranking at seventh, followed by Wake Forest at 26th and Elon at 34th. Duke had an admission rate of 19 percent, a student-faculty ratio of eight and a four-year graduation rate of 87 percent. The average total cost per year at Duke was $55,245 and the average debt at graduation, after subtracting financial aid, was $21,884.
In South Carolina, Clemson had the highest ranking of public universities, coming in 34th. USC-Columbia was 57th and College of Charleston was 61st. Clemson had an average admission rate of 63 percent and a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent.
– source: Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine
The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement at UNC Asheville has received a $2 million endowment that’s expected to provide $80,000 to $100,000 annually.
The endowment, provided by the Bernard Osher Foundation, will help expand class offerings at the center, along with programs designed to help seniors transition from work to retirement.
The center, which has close to 1,700 members, already offers more than 285 classes on a wide range of topics, ranging from Buddhism to quilting. The North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement will become part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which has a network of 119 other institutes across the country.
“By becoming part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes network, we secure our place in the national conversation about learning in the second half of life,” said the center’s executive director Catherine Frank. “We will preserve what is unique about the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, which are our life transition and civic programs, and we will be able to strengthen our College of Seniors, which has been so vital to so many Asheville retirees.”
Frank said the funds will help make up for the loss of state funds, which are about one-third what they were in the 2008-2009 budget year. The center, housed in the Reuter Center at UNC-Asheville, gets most of its funding from participant fees and relies heavily on help from volunteers.
– source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 12/27/11
The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department plans to convert 10 of its patrol cars to run on propane to reduce expenses and emissions. Converting the Ford Crown Victorias will cost about $5,800 per vehicle, which will be covered by a Department of Energy grant administered through the Virginia Clean Cities Coalition.
Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan says the conversion will lower his department’s fuel costs and provide cleaner-burning cars without a “noticeable” difference in vehicle performance. The county says it expects to save at least $1 a gallon in fuel costs.
Buncombe County’s 10 converted patrol cars will be part of a nationwide trend. The Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program says it will convert 1,195 vehicles to run on propane autogas conversions by the spring of 2012.
– source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 12/24/11
Baldor Electric Co. plans to invest $17 million and add 166 jobs to its Cleveland County operations that produce electric motors for wind-power applications. The company, a unit of Switzerland-based ABB Group, plans to buy a 270,000-square-foot building on U.S. 74 in Shelby.
The average annual wages for the new jobs will exceed the Cleveland County average annual wage of $32,344, according to the N.C. Governor’s Office. Baldor began in 1983 building electric motors in Kings Mountain, where it currently employs 530.
The company says its expanded operations will help it keep up with growing demand for wind-powered technology. The company will receive a $400,000 grant from the One North Carolina fund if it meets investment and job creation targets. Cleveland County also is offering tax incentives on the property for 10 years.
– source:
Greenville County had the most fatal vehicle accidents of any county in South Carolina last year, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety. The state says 53 people died in vehicle accidents in Greenville County in 2011. Lexington County was second with 51 deaths. Statewide, there were 810 people killed in vehicle accidents in 2011, up slightly from 801 in 2010.
The number of deaths was still well below the 2007 total of 1,052. Law enforcement authorities attribute the decline to a stricter seat belt law. While the number of people who died in vehicle accidents went down from 591 in 2010 to 559 in 2011, the number of pedestrians killed on state roads jumped nearly 20 percent to 110.
According to Transportation for America, South Carolina is ranked as the second most dangerous state for pedestrians with 981 pedestrian deaths from 2000 to 2009.
The number of people killed riding motorcycles also rose in South Carolina from 82 in 2010 to 102 in 2011. One state lawmaker has proposed a bill to require motorcycle riders to wear a helmet, but it’s unclear how much support it will have. Last year, the S.C. Supreme Court rejected a city ordinance to require bikers to wear helmets in Myrtle Beach.
– source:, 1/2/12
A panel of three doctors will determine whether Henderson County Sheriff Rick Davis will be allowed to retire for medical reasons, according to the N.C. Treasurer’s Office, which oversees the state’s retirement system.
Davis announced in November he suffers from manic bipolar disorder, and he recently informed the Henderson County Board of Commissioners that he plans to seek a medical retirement by the end of this month. Davis said he was advised by his doctor to leave his job. County commissioners have been demanding more information from Davis regarding his behavior and a $5,000 deductible the county paid for a legal claim involving Davis and a female law enforcement officer. However, Davis has not answered questions from commissioners.
– source: Asheville Citizen-Times, 1/1/12
Hunters in North Carolina will now have a chance to hunt feral swine at night. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will allow the night hunting with the aid of light with a special permit.
The commission says hunters who obtain the permit in addition to a hunting license can hunt feral swine after normal shooting hours, a half hour before sunrise and a half hour past sunset, where allowed by local law. Hunting by firearms on Sunday is not allowed, and the special permit does not grant access to any property. Landholders must grant permission to enter private or public property.
The permit, valid through March, also does not allow hunters to take feral swine on state game land. The new permit was created in response to growing problems with wild pigs in the state. Wildlife officials note that the pigs often destroy farm crops and they consume many of the same foods of many other animals.
– source:

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