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Asheville area jobless rate down to 7.1 percent

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11/5/2012 - Asheville area jobless rate down to 7.1 percent
by Dale Neal - Asheville Citizen Times

Joblessness in the Asheville area fell to 7.1 percent in September, the region's lowest rate since the depths of the Great Recession in Dec. 2008. Improved job growth on the national level for October should translate into good news for the local level, economists said.

For the year, the four-county region of Buncombe, Madison, Haywood and Henderson has added 2,400 new jobs, according to data released Friday by the N.C. Department of Commerce. The total nonfarm job force grew to 172,300 from 170,600 in August while the number of unemployed fell from 16,668 to 15,570.

"We again saw an increase in the labor force along with a decrease in the number of unemployed so we likely have fewer discouraged workers in combination with more job placement," said Heidi Reiber, research director for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. "This is the right direction for our economy."

Meanwhile, new numbers released Friday showed the nation's economy added 171,000 jobs in October - outpacing economists' expectations of only 125,000. But with more people rejoining the job market looking for work, the nation's unemployment rate edged up to 7.9 percent.

"We're moving in the right direction in actual job creation, but we're still adding jobs at a very slow pace," said Michael Brown, an economist with Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte.

Those national gains should translate into improved figures for job growth in North Carolina and for the Asheville area when October data is released later this month, Brown said. "But the unemployment should remain relatively unchanged," he predicted.

The Asheville area's unemployment rate has dropped 1.2 percentage points since a year ago when it stood at 8.3 percent. Durham/Chapel Hill led the state with a jobless rate down to 6.9 percent in September.

The biggest gains have come in health services which has added 2,000 jobs over the past year, the largest increase in the past decade, Reiber said. The professional and business service sector added 1,400 new jobs for the year. Those are typically higher-paying jobs, Reiber said.

But local manufacturing, which had showed steady growth in the past year, posted a loss of 800 jobs over last year, Friday's report showed.

The expansions of Linamar, a local auto parts manufacturer, and Plasticard has helped to support job growth in manufacturing earlier in the year, but the positive gains were not enough to make up for layoffs at other local facilities, according to the Wells Fargo North Carolina economic outlook report.

But overall, Reiber saw positive trends for local business and the possibility for new paychecks. "As the economy returns from the recession, some new jobs may not be exactly the same as jobs that were lost," she said. "But they reflect increased demand for products and services which helps businesses and also helps us gain momentum."

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