ASU’s WNC Economic Index resumes with look at March data

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Article Published: May. 17, 2012 | Modified: May. 17, 2012

After a year-long hiatus, the Western North Carolina Economic Index and Report has resumed with a current review of the regional economy.

For nearly 10 years, the WNC Index had provided a consistent and timely account of regional economic conditions and trends. Last year, however, the project was suspended due to reductions in state appropriations to Appalachian State University.

“The budget cuts dealt a blow to our engagement efforts, and suspending the WNC Index project was one of the consequences,” said Dr. Todd Cherry, director of the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis (CERPA) at Appalachian. “We hoped it was temporary, and many people said they missed it. We just had to figure out a way to make it happen again.”

The recent report shows that the economic picture for the 25-county western region of the state was mixed during the first quarter of 2012 after showing some positive signs throughout 2011.

“From the start, we understood the recovery would be slow and bumpy,” Cherry said. “The center of this unusual recession was the housing and financial crisis, and the persistent weakness in both of these areas has limited our ability to recover in a significant way.”

The WNC Index improved from a low of 100 in April 2011 to a score of 102 in March, which follows four consecutive months at an index of 102, and five months of consistent increases in the index during 2011. The increases represent an improvement in the state’s unemployment rate as well as economic activity.

“The region lost about 10 percent of jobs during the recession, which was considerably greater than the national losses,” Cherry said. “We’ve recovered about half of those losses.”

A total of 551,992 were employed in March, up from a low of 531,201 in October 2009.
Economic recovery continues to be mixed in the region.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment in western North Carolina was 9.6 percent in March, down 0.2 points from February. Watauga County’s March rate was 8.9 percent, down 0.2 points from February.

The state unemployment rate also decreased by 0.2 points to 9.7 percent. Rural counties had a 0.1-point decline in unemployment to 10.8 percent, while in the region’s metro areas unemployment decreased by 0.2 points. Asheville’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in March, while the Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir area had 10.8 percent unemployment.

“Generally, the region continues to struggle more than the rest of the state, but there is a great deal of variation in the region,” Cherry said. “Unemployment ranges from just over 7 percent in Henderson County to more than 18 percent in Graham County.”

The full WNC Index and Report for March is online at

The WNC Economic Index and Report is a cooperative effort by CERPA and Advantage West. It is compiled and written by Dr. John Dawson, an associate professor in Appalachian’s Department of Economics, and Dr. Ash Morgan, an assistant professor in the department.

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