The Biz: “Anticipation … is keepin’ me waitin’”

Let’s face it: Asheville could use some good news. The economy’s in the crapper; jobs are being shed like a snake’s skin. And a whole lot of folks, whatever their profession, are sweating their financial future.

So is Realserv the answer?

For many anxious people in the real-estate business, it seemed that way a mere six months ago (see “At Your Service,” July 9, 2008, Xpress). That’s when the locally based company announced that Asheville was one of three contenders (along with Florida and Colorado) for a massive nationwide support center for real-estate agents.

The prize? At least 630 new jobs over the next few years, with base salaries of $35,000 and up. And those figures are “conservative,” CEO Shannon Van Etten told Xpress last year.

In other words, if Realserv did pick Asheville, it would be one of the biggest job announcements in Buncombe County’s history, Ray Denny, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development, told Xpress last year. It would also help ease a local unemployment rate that now stands at 6.2 percent (see below).

Trouble is, the announcement still hasn’t come. But, says Van Etten, the wait may soon be over. Though he’s not at liberty to give details. “We’ve got a couple of things that are brewing that will be worthy, I think, of announcement—that I think you’ll be well pleased with,” he reports. “But I don’t want to give you half a story or bits and pieces at this point.” Van Etten expects Realserv to make a decision any day now.

And even that vague statement holds out some hope of relief for a town jonesing for jobs. As one real-estate professional said recently, “I’m really hoping for this thing to get off the ground.”
Realserv, launched in 2005 by Transaction First and the N.C. Management Corp. (a wholly owned subsidiary of the N.C. Association of Realtors), provides online tools and information to speed up and simplify real-estate transactions. Clients include the more than 150,000 real-estate agents in 17 states who subscribe to Realfast, the association’s proprietary, Web-based software system for real-estate forms and property information. Besides helping agents handle transactions, the system also offers enables brokers and agents to collaborate with others in the chain, such as appraisers and title insurers. Realfast supplies information from Multiple Listing Services throughout the nation, maintaining a property-reporting system that supports property data in more than 3,000 counties. The company also serves the 680,000 Multiple Listing Service customers of MarketLinx, which is the nation’s largest business and real-estate service provider.

The proposed Asheville center, Van Etten explains, would enable real-estate agents in the field to access the multitude of business and legal forms needed to process and close real-estate transactions. Most of the employees at the customer-support center would assist Realfast users—by phone or online—with questions, issues or problems that might arise in accessing or processing the reams of forms and information required to close a property transaction. Van Etten anticipates that many of his hires will be experienced real-estate professionals who are either out of work or looking to make a change.

And though the ultimate decision is out of Van Etten’s hands, he’s made it clear he wants the facility here, noting, “Our overall intention is to keep this as close to headquarters in Asheville as possible.”

Pink slips: The local unemployment rate took a dramatic leap in November, based on the latest statistics from the N.C. Employment Security Commission.

The Asheville metro area (Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties) saw its unemployment rate jump to 6.2 percent, up from 5.2 percent in October.

All four counties had significant rate spikes, with Haywood experiencing the biggest rise in unemployment, jumping from 5.6 percent to 7.1 percent. Buncombe’s rate rose from 5.1 percent to a full 6 percent—only slightly better than Henderson County’s 6.1 percent and Madison County’s 6.6 percent.

All of the state’s 100 counties saw unemployment rise in November, pushing the statewide jobless rate to 7.9 percent.

“Manufacturing, retail trade and services sectors have been hit hard during this national and worldwide economic slump,” ESC Chair Harry Payne Jr. reports. “Retail trade was down, because many employers did not take on more workers during the holiday season as they have in the past. Also, textile and furniture manufacturing continue to struggle in the global economy.”

In the Asheville metro area, the only sectors showing positive job growth in November were trade, transportation and utilities, and educational and health services. Collectively, they gained 300 jobs. The hardest-hit sectors were professional and business services (which shed 1,000 jobs) and leisure and hospitality (400 jobs).

The newest geek: Asheville-based nonprofit Meet the Geeks, a networking group for information-technology professionals, has hired Michael E. Richardson as its executive director. “With the growth and maturation of the organization, the board decided it was time to create an executive director position to provide continuity among our ongoing, volunteer-led programs and allow us to pursue some additional long-term goals,” notes board Chair Jenny Manner.

Richardson, a 30-year Air Force veteran, recently moved here from Homestead, Fla., where he served as president and CEO of Vision Council and the Vision Foreign Trade Zone—private, nonprofit economic-development corporations that focused on the southernmost sector of Miami-Dade County.
Shine on, shutterbugs: The Asheville-based Spiral Development has announced the launch of Focalware, which calculates the position of the sun and moon at any time anywhere in the world using GPS data. The iPhone application, available through Apple’s iTunes, helps photographers and filmmakers plan optimal shots and maximize their shooting schedules. If, for example, a photographer has a shoot in New York City on March 15 and the building in question faces 195 degrees, but the photographer prefers raking light at an angle of 130 degrees, Focalware instantly computes the optimal time: 10:28 a.m. with a sun elevation of 35 degrees.

For more information, go to http://spiraldev.com/focalware.
Java! Java! Java! If there weren’t enough local coffee bars already, here’s a new place to slake your thirst for the buzzy bean: the Dynamite Roasting Co. in Black Mountain.

Described as “a cozy little place to enjoy a cup or pick up a pound to take home,” it’s at 3198 Old U.S. Highway 70 West, next to Duke’s Hot Dogs. The joint offers organic coffees Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with expanded hours planned.

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