From the Mountain Xpress:
“Buncombe County is No. 1 — at least when it comes to North Carolina’s workforce. According to the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, the county’s unemployment rate in April hit 2.8 percent, its lowest since 2001 and the lowest of all counties in the state for 38 consecutive months.
“It’s a great sign of the health of our economy,” says Clark Duncan, senior vice president for economic development at the chamber and executive director of the Economic Development Coalition of Asheville-Buncombe County. The past three years have seen consistent growth throughout the region, driven by sectors both expected and surprising.
Tourism and health care, the traditional drivers of the Asheville-area economy, continue to play vital roles. Jobs in health care rose by 11 percent between 2014 and 2017, while jobs in accommodation and food services were up by 8 percent over the same time period.
Explore Asheville (formerly the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau) reports that in 2016, 3.8 million overnight visitors came to Buncombe County and an additional 6.1 million people came to the county for the day, together spending $1.9 billion at local businesses. The bureau also notes that one in seven jobs in Buncombe County is supported by the tourism industry. Without those jobs, the bureau says that the unemployment rate would be 15.2 percent.
Those employees serve an ever-increasing number of tourists, according to the most recent available bureau data. Demand for hotel rooms in January was up 8.5 percent over the same time period in 2017, and total airport passengers were up 30 percent.
But Duncan points out that the manufacturing sector actually led Buncombe County job creation in March and April. In March, year-over-year growth in manufacturing was 600 jobs, and in April, year-over-year growth was estimated at 1,100 jobs. “That is more year-over-year growth than health care and tourism,” he says.
By comparison, health services and education saw a year-to-year growth of 200 jobs in March and 200 in April, while the leisure and hospitality sector saw year-to-year growth of zero in March and 200 in April. “It’s fairly unusual to see manufacturing outperforming these other two sectors,” notes Duncan.
Duncan says that the rise in manufacturing jobs can partly be attributed to the region’s economic recovery over the past several years, which created a pent-up demand for critical investments in technology and machinery. “You saw this rush to make fairly significant investments like GE Aviation and New Belgium Brewing,” says Duncan. In May 2016, New Belgium Brewing opened a $175 million brewery in Asheville, and in March of this year, GE Aviation announced it would invest $105 million into the company’s Asheville facility, creating 105 new jobs.”