There was good economic news for the area last week.
Several local media outlets reported that, according to experts who spoke at the recent Asheville Metro Economy Outlook forum, the economy is on the rise after the worst recession since the Great Depression.
“Things are better than you see, hear and read,” James F. Smith, chief economist at the local investment firm Parsec Financial Management and a national authority on the economy assured a crowd of about 300 people at Diana Wortham Theatre, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.
Smith was joined at the forum by Tom Tveidt, a local research economist with Syneva Economics, a private consulting firm that specializes in regional economic analysis.
In the article, "Asheville-area Economy Rebounding," the AC-T reported that the two experts said housing sales are up, unemployment is down and other key indicators are showing improvement. To make his case, Smith cited a rise in personal consumption expenditures, which he said reached all-time highs in March, April and May. And Tveidt pointed to data that showed that the area is only 600 jobs away from experiencing positive growth for the first time since May 2008.
In another sign of possible economic improvement last week, the AC-T reported that "Buncombe County Home Sales Rise Again; Realtors Hopeful Trend Will Persist." The number of homes sold in the county through the Multiple Listing Service rose 20.6 percent over June 2009 and the median price of homes sold — the point at which half were higher, half lower — rose nearly 10 percent to $217,000, according to the article.
But Jamie Blue, president of the Asheville Board of Realtors, told the paper that he thinks it's too soon for home sellers to start raising prices. He said that federal tax credits for first-time home buyers have been helpful, but noted that they're scheduled to expire Sept. 30.
It will be easier to get a sense of which way the housing market is going in a couple of months as the effects of the tax credits diminish, Blue explained.
“It's probably still too soon to say we're on the way up,” he noted.
Rebirth of the Asheville Civic Center
City leaders hope that upcoming improvements to the Asheville Civic Center will also help spur economic growth.
The planned renovations got a kick-start last week, with the AC-T reporting that the "Asheville Civic Center gets $2M for Upgrades Promised for SoCon Tourney."
The money from the County Tourism Development Authority will go toward fixing the roof, locker room, lighting and other areas.
The proposed renovations played a vital role in a recent deal with the city to lure the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament to the venue. The deal calls for hosting the tournament for three years, starting in 2012. The event is estimated to bring a $4 million economic boost to the area.
In addition to attracting the tournament, City Councilman Jan Davis told the paper that he hopes the renovations will make the venue a better destination for music and other events.
“The conference enables the fixes. But it's more than that. This is the community's gathering spot. It's the only one we've got,” he said.
High-speed internet extends to residents of rural Madison County
And in good economic news outside of town, the News-Record & Sentinel reported that "Big Grant Will Spread Internet in Madison."
The $1.8 million federal grant will extend high-speed Internet service to rural Madison County residents in Spring Creek, Laurel and Beech Glenn, as well as areas of Marshall and Mars Hill.
“Reliable high-speed Internet is crucial for the future economic development of all three counties in the district,” said N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, who announced the grant. “This project will create jobs immediately and drive economic development in the community that will continue to spur job growth for many years to come.”