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Asheville adding higher-paying jobs

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8/24/2012 - Asheville adding higher-paying jobs
by Dale Neal - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- Tom Tveidt has been crunching the numbers about the local economy for the past 13 years at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce's annual Metro Economic Outlook.

For most of those years, the numbers have been almost boring, with more of the same steady growth. That was before the steep decline in jobs and business with the Great Recession and a few years of waiting for recovery.

But on Thursday, Tveidt was able to point to welcome signs of a new economy led by higher-paying jobs in manufacturing, health care and professional services.

"The real growth has been in in knowledge workers. For years, we thought Asheville would be a great place to attract them. Finally, we're starting to see them," Tveidt told the crowd of business leaders at the Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville.

Tveidt, who heads SYNEVA Economics in Waynesville, pointed to a record high in firms in various industries -- led by 639 companies in wholesale trade, 305 in management and technical consulting, 262 in architectural and engineering services and 257 legal services offices.

Communications equipment manufacturers, such as AVL Technologies, have grown in the past decade, employing a record 304 workers, paying some of the area's highest wages at an average of $1,383 per week. Fabricated metal product manufacturing wages closely followed at a high of $1,106 a week.

Food and beverage manufacturing has become a sizable industry in Asheville, even before New Belgium and Sierra Nevada have opened their major breweries. The Asheville area boasts 31 food manufacturers while a record high of 363 workers are employed in local beer making -- jobs that didn't exist a decade ago.

Asheville's economy is growing at its historic rate of around 1.5 percent, looking back to the 1990s, rather than the 4 percent of 2007 leading up to the bubble, Tveidt said.

Unemployment remains painfully high for the four-county metro area of Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties at 7.9 percent, though that's still lower than both the state and national rates. "We lost about 10,400 jobs from our peak, but we've gained 4,800, so we still have about two to two and half years to gain back those jobs," Tveidt said.

Older workers have gained more of a foothold in the job market at the expense of younger workers, numbers show. The metro's labor force shows 1,673 or 7 percent more workers aged 55-64 percent compared to 2,168 fewer workers age 25 and under.

Tveidt hazarded a guess that more Baby Boomers may be afraid to retire or leave those jobs.

"Age and experience before youth and eagerness," quipped James F. Smith, an economic forecaster with Parsec Financial in Asheville.

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy still remains a colossus, with Americans producing about 25 percent of the world's economic output with only about 4.8 percent of the world's population, Smith said.

But the U.S. has also experienced the weakest recovery in the past 100 years. "Why the expansion has been so weak, no one knows," Smith admitted.

But he pointed to three strengthening sectors of the U.S. economy: housing, vehicle sales and business investment.

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