USDA seeks applications for grants to develop rural co-ops

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is accepting applications for grants to help rural cooperatives develop new markets for their products and services. USDA is making the grants available to nonprofit corporations and institutions of higher education through the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program.

“Cooperative organizations are important catalysts for economic growth and job creation in rural America,” Vilsack said. “The lack of investment capital is often the key factor holding many rural areas back from economic prosperity. The investments that USDA is making available will help organizations start cooperatives, expand existing ones, boost sales and marketing opportunities, and help develop business opportunities in rural areas.”

USDA’s Rural Cooperative Development Grant program improves economic conditions in rural areas by helping individuals and businesses start, expand or improve the operations of rural cooperatives and other mutually owned businesses through cooperative development centers. Other eligible grant activities may include conducting feasibility studies and creating business plans.

USDA is making up to $5.8 million in grants available in Fiscal Year 2015. One-year grants up to $200,000 are available. In most cases, grants may be used to pay for up to 75 percent of a project’s total costs. Recipients are required to match 25 percent of the award amount. The grants will be awarded prior to September 30, 2015. The recipients will have one year to utilize the awarded funds.

The application deadline is July 30. For additional information, see Page 34129 of the June 15, 2015, Federal Register or contact the USDA Rural Development State Office.

Online Driver License Renewal Announced in NC

Governor Pat McCrory announced that the state has launched a testing phase for on-line driver license renewal. This new service will allow customers to save time and complete driver license renewals at their convenience without having to visit a driver license office. Allowing customers to renew online will also help reduce wait times in North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles offices throughout the state.

“This new service is a major milestone in our continued efforts to improve customer service online and in our DMV offices throughout the state, making it faster, easier and more convenient for people to complete their business and get back to their busy lives,” said Governor Pat McCrory.

“I am proud of the tremendous efforts and major impact our team has made to enhance customer focus since early 2013, including extending hours across the state, adding greeters to help triage needs, and incorporating new innovative technology,” said NCDOT Secretary Tony Tata. “Online renewal is another important step and just the beginning of more enhanced services to come for our customers.”

NCDMV is also now issuing a new more secure and durable type of driver license through the online renewal and online duplicate request testing phase. The new design helps prevent counterfeiting, reduces the risk of identity theft, decreases the potential for fraud and meets federally recommended security features. The new license is expected to be available in NCDMV offices beginning this summer.

Among the DMV customer improvements added since 2013 are extended service hours in mornings, evenings and on Saturdays in key locations, adding front desk greeters, self-service kiosks and improved equipment, all with the goal of reducing wait times in some of our busier offices.

Weekend Shark Attacks Shake Coastal Community

Two shark attacks over the weekend in Coast North Carolina has left many stunned.

Officials say two young people who lost limbs in separate shark were in waist-deep water about 20 yards offshore when they were attacked.

Sunday’s attacks happened less than 90 minutes apart. The call about a 12-year-old girl came in about 4:40 p.m. The call about a 16-year-old boy attacked about two miles away came in at 5:51 p.m.

The girl lost part of her arm and suffered a leg injury. The boy lost his left arm. Their names haven’t been released. Both teens were on vacations and live in other parts of the state.

Officials said they couldn’t confirm whether the same shark attacked them or give details on the size of the animal or animals.

Both victims were airlifted to a Wilmington hospital on Sunday night with life-threatening injuries and underwent surgery.

Poultry shows and public sales will be suspended this fall due to threat of avian influenza

State Veterinarian Doug Meckes and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced today that all North Carolina poultry shows and public sales will be suspended from Aug. 15 to Jan. 15 due to the threat of highly pathogenic avian influenza. This includes the N.C. State Fair and Mountain State Fair poultry shows, bird shows at county fairs, live bird auctions and poultry swap meets.

The current strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza has been found in 21 states, mostly in the Midwest, and has not been detected in any state along the East Coast. This strain has not been found to affect human health and does not affect food safety. The virus is thought to be carried by migratory fowl, so veterinary officials are bracing for possible introduction of the virus during the fall migration.

“We did not make this decision lightly,” said Meckes. “Highly pathogenic avian influenza is a serious threat to our state’s poultry and we anticipate the threat of the virus will increase this fall. We want to take appropriate precautions to prevent the introduction to backyard and commercial flocks.”

The decision comes after department officials consulted with industry representatives, poultry specialists from N.C. State University, fair officials and other related parties. North Carolina joins at least 13 other states that have cancelled or altered poultry shows due to HPAI.
“We know this ban will affect a number of poultry shows and kids who have planned to exhibit at their county fair or the State Fair,” Troxler said. “We regret having to make this decision, but we think it is in the best interest of everyone involved. We’re working on ways to keep youth who wanted to show at fairs interested in showing.”

Elementary School Gunman has $3 Million Bond

A judge added millions to the bond of a man arrested with a woman last week after they were found with guns at South Macon elementary school campus.
Macon County Detention Center records show Adam Conley now faces a $3 million bond after an altercation at the jail

Records show Conley’s bond was raised on Saturday.

Conley now faces two more charges, in addition to those filed in connection to his arrest at South Macon Elementary School last Thursday.
The additional charges are assault on a government official, which carries a mandatory $2 million bond, and resisting a public officer.

Conley and Kathryn Jetter were arrested early Thursday morning after a bus driver reported them on the elementary school campus. Investigators say they were armed with loaded guns on school property, tried to shoot at a deputy during the arrest and had a gun on a school bus. Police say the two were also on drugs and shot and killed a cat at the school.

Conley and Jetter remain in the detention facility. Jetter’s bond remains set at $1 million.

Senate’s Comprehensive Economic Development Plan to Provide Balanced Tax Relief, Support Job Growth Statewide

Senate Republicans proposed a comprehensive economic development solution Wednesday that provides balanced tax relief to North Carolina families and businesses, reforms outdated and unfair tax laws, and empowers the entire state to grow and compete for new jobs.

The plan responsibly extends the state’s jobs incentives programs to recruit new businesses, while also further improving the tax climate for existing businesses so they can invest and hire more workers statewide. And it reduces the tax burden for North Carolinians of all income levels – including working families, seniors and lower income earners.

“This comprehensive package is the next step in making North Carolina more competitive for jobs and allowing working families and small businesses to keep more of their hard-earned money,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham.). “It builds on the successful tax reform efforts of 2013 by cutting taxes across all income spectrums and providing solutions to some unanticipated outcomes. Gov. McCrory has insisted on a balanced approach, so we’ve gone back to the drawing board to make sure every area of the state is more attractive for job creation – both rural and urban alike.

“These are some of the most challenging issues facing our state, and I am grateful to Sens. Brown, Gunn, Rabon and Rucho for working together to find common ground and a fair compromise that helps all of North Carolina.”

The Senate revisions to House Bill 117 will:

· Extend the state Job Development Investment Grants (JDIG) program for an additional two years while providing an additional $5 million in one-time funding to enable the state Department of Commerce to catch up on grant awards. The bill will also:

o Create a new economic development tool for attracting major manufacturing projects – like automobile and aerospace manufacturers – that commit to investing at least $750 million and creating at least 2,000 new North Carolina jobs.
o Adopt safeguards proposed by the House to ensure job recruitment dollars are administered responsibly and available throughout the entire year.
o Respond to concerns that struggling, mostly rural areas have received limited support from state incentives programs by establishing more generous grants to companies that locate in poorer counties.
o Eliminate the hard cap on incentives in urban counties found in previous Senate proposals, as requested by the governor.

· Reduce the tax burden on North Carolina families and small businesses by cutting the personal income tax rate from 5.75 to 5.5 percent beginning in 2016. The legislation will also create a progressive zero percent tax bracket that year – ensuring all North Carolina taxpayers, regardless of income, will pay no state personal income tax on their first $17,500 of income. And it will increase the amount of nontaxable income even further over the next five years. Under the bill, 88 percent of taxpayers will pay less, pay nothing or see no change in what they pay.

“A major goal of tax reform has been ensuring fair tax relief for all North Carolinians – regardless of income level,” said Senate Finance Committee co-chairman Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg). “Further reducing the tax rate and increasing the zero tax bracket will help achieve that goal and provide significant relief to low-income earners, working families and small businesses across our state.”

· Allow families to claim all deductions offered by the federal government on their North Carolina tax returns – including those for medical, mortgage interest, property tax, charitable, education and other allowable expenses – up to a maximum of $20,000. Together with the increased zero tax bracket, the change will enable 85 percent of taxpayers to claim all deductions for which they are eligible.

· Keep the promise of lower corporate income taxes by allowing the rate to fall to four percent beginning in 2016 and three percent beginning in 2017. The state is already expected to meet revenue targets currently in place that will trigger the reductions. This change will provide certainty that North Carolina’s rate will soon be the lowest in the Southeast.

· Move to calculating corporate income tax on the basis of a single sales factor over three years, so businesses are not penalized for making large capital investments or hiring more workers in the state. Many neighboring states, including South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, use a single sales factor formula, and this has put them at a competitive advantage over North Carolina.

· Allocate sales tax dollars fairly to ensure North Carolina’s local governments benefit from tax dollars paid by their own citizens. Over four years, the plan will provide that 80 percent of sales tax revenues are allocated based on where people live, with 20 percent allocated based on the county where a sale takes place. And it will eliminate outdated and unfair “adjustment factors” that redistribute sales tax revenues to a handful of counties. The changes will enable all areas of the state to receive a fair share of sales tax revenues while still supporting costs associated with providing services and infrastructure in large commercial centers.

“When the current, archaic sales tax system was put in place, North Carolina was a different state. But times have changed, and the outdated distribution policy is creating a major obstacle to job creation in rural areas,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown (R-Onslow). “These reforms strike a balance with our incentives policy and allow all of North Carolina to share in economic prosperity – by giving our rural counties a fair shake while making sure our urban centers still benefit from incentives and sales tax dollars as they grow in population.”

The plan will also:

o Narrow the loophole that major corporations sheltering in nonprofit status are using to avoid paying their fair share of sales tax. Because they are classified as nonprofits, their first $666 million in purchases are not subject to tax, unlike other large businesses. Over five years, the bill will reduce the sales tax exemption for nonprofits to their first $15 million in purchases – still allowing nearly 99 percent of nonprofits to receive the full benefit of the exemption.
o Broaden the sales tax base to continue the goal of moving away from unfair and burdensome taxes on property and income. The bill will expand the base to include advertising, veterinary services and items proposed by the House as part of its 2013 tax reform package. It will also begin the process of eliminating a number of sales tax loopholes by applying the state rate and increasing maximum payment caps.

· Streamline and reduce the franchise tax by 33 percent – cutting what is effectively a statewide property tax on both large and small businesses.

Short Road Leads to Big Opportunities: Paving Underway on Casino Connector

It may be shorter than a mile, but a new road under construction in far western North Carolina has big potential.

“Economically, this is going to be huge,” says Murphy Mayor William Hughes. “We haven’t had an impact like this since the TVA built Hiwassee Dam in the 1930’s, and the population of the town tripled”.

Workers are applying asphalt to the eight-tenths of a mile connector from U.S. 64/74 on the east side of Murphy, to the site of the new Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel. The North Carolina Department of Transportation expects paving to be finished in a couple of weeks.

NCDOT built water and sewer line connections to the property, so it could move forward with building and paving the road. “That work is almost complete, from a DOT perspective, and the tribe will reimburse the state, so it’s a win-win” says Brian Burch, NCDOT Division 14 Construction Engineer. He adds the short road has been a big collaboration. “We’ve worked closely with the Eastern Band of Cherokee, town of Murphy, Cherokee County, and the contractor, Whiting and Turner.”

“This road is the conduit that’s going to provide access to jobs, visitors, and tourists to our area, so we’re real excited to be a partner in this project,” says Burch. “There’s potential in additional jobs created through more restaurants, hotels, and all the things that come with tourists visiting the area.”

Mayor Hughes agrees the impact goes far beyond the anticipated 900 new Harrah’s jobs. “Those 900 people will be living here, spending here, contributing to the economy.”

He adds the new complex will also give those who grew up in the area a chance to stay here. “In the last 40 or 50 years, we see a mass exodus of young people this time every year. After graduation, some go to college, others the service. Those looking to enter the workforce often have to look elsewhere. This will give them a chance to continue living here.”

Harrah’s is hoping to open in late summer, according to the mayor. “Some of the workers have started training already,” he says. “We’ve been anticipating this for a while and are excited for the opportunities it brings.”

Beef cattle field day is July 18 at Mountain Research Station

North Carolina’s annual Beef Cattle Field Day will take place July 18 at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville. The event, designed for cattle producers and those interested in cattle production, will feature research-based educational sessions focusing on forage management, reproduction and nutrition.

This event is sponsored by N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the N.C. Cattlemen’s Association. It is free and open to the public.

The event starts with registration and a trade show from 8:30 to 9:20 a.m., followed by introductory remarks from Dr. Roger Crickenberger of the N.C. Agricultural Research Service at N.C. State, and Dr. Sandy Stewart of the NCDA&CS’s Research Stations Division.

Field day participants will then have the opportunity to take part in three sessions, led by N.C. State scientists, on how to extend the grazing season, which steps are needed for successful reproductive performance and how to feed and store wet brewers’ grains.

Lunch takes place from noon to 1 p.m., and then a panel discussion on different cattle production systems follows.

“The panel discussion will focus on what are the definitions of natural, grass-fed, pasture-raised, grass-finished beef production,” said Dr. Philipe Moriel, an N.C. State assistant professor of animal science. “It will be followed by a discussion among local producers about the advantages of each production system.”

Moriel says that the goal is to show producers that opportunities exist for each of the production systems.

The Mountain Research Station is located at 265 Test Farm Road, Waynesville. Research activities at the 407-acre station reflect the diversity of Western North Carolina agriculture, including field and forage crops, horticultural crops, Christmas trees, livestock and more. Directions to the station are available at http://www.ncagr.gov/research/MountainResearchStationWaynesville.htm.

Body of Missing Hiker is Sylva Resident

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials said Monday they had found the body of a missing 62-year-old woman who was an experienced hiker.
Earlier Monday morning, the park’s public affairs office confirmed the missing hiker was Jenny Bennett of Sylva. The body was found about 9:30 a.m. by rangers.

Bennet’s vehicle was located at the Porters Flat trailhead later on Sunday. A search was underway when she was found by rangers, trackers and dog teams. Her body was discovered about ½ mile above 31 campsite off trail.

She was a member of the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club and wrote a blog about her outdoor activities called Endless Streams and Forests. Her last post was May 27th. She is also the author of two books with the backdrop of the park, “Murder at the Jump-off” and “The Twelve Streams of LeConte.”
Authorities cautioned hikers that off trail hiking can be dangerous.

Wells Fargo Diversity and Leadership Scholars Program

Western Carolina University is creating a new endowed scholarship initiative designed to provide financial support to underserved students who exhibit leadership qualities and who come from diverse populations, thanks to a gift of $150,000 from Wells Fargo.
Announcement of the Wells Fargo Diversity and Leadership Scholars Program came Friday, June 5, at the Wells Fargo Business Center in WCU’s College of Business.
Proceeds from the endowment will be used to provide annual assistance to a minimum of three students at Western Carolina. Preference will be given to low-income students from diverse backgrounds who are the first generation in their families to attend college.
“This new scholarship program will help underserved and underrepresented students to complete their studies at Western Carolina University and move into leadership positions, to lead productive lives and to leave a positive impact on the communities in which they live,” WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said.
“The creation of additional endowed scholarship funds to provide financial support to deserving students is our university’s top philanthropic priority,” Belcher said. “We are pleased that Wells Fargo once again is demonstrating its commitment to being a key partner in the education and development of WCU students who will graduate with the skills and competencies necessary to make a significant and immediate contribution to our regional and state economy.”
Recipients of Wells Fargo Diversity and Leadership Scholarships must have completed freshman year requirements with no sanctions in place and must demonstrate characteristics of outstanding leadership.
The scholarship will be aimed at students residing in one of the 48 counties comprising the Western North Carolina, Greater Charlotte and Triad regions of North Carolina, and at those majoring in programs in WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions, College of Business or College of Health and Human Sciences.
“The success of students is a critical element in keeping our communities strong and prosperous, and Wells Fargo is committed to providing them with every possible resource to achieve long-term success,” said Jim Wood, Wells Fargo’s WNC business banking manager. “Today’s young people are tomorrow’s business owners, leaders and teachers, and we are proud to support our partners at WCU in their efforts to provide scholarships to underserved students.”
The gift for the new scholarship program represents the latest example of a long-standing partnership between Western Carolina and Wells Fargo.
In 2011, WCU named the newly refurbished auditorium in the Forsyth Building, home to the College of Business, as the Wells Fargo Business Center in recognition of contributions totaling $150,000. The funds helped equip and furnish the renovated center, and provide scholarship assistance to students in the College of Business and financial support for faculty development efforts within the college.
In previous years, Wells Fargo provided support for the Professional Sales Center in the College of Business, graduate research activities, programming in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, and celebration of the College of Education and Allied Professions’ receipt of the 2007 Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award presented by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
“Wells Fargo fully believes that supporting education is one of the most important investments we can make in our country’s future,” said Rusty Edwards, area business banking manager for Wells Fargo’s Triad and WNC regions. “We are honored to work together with educational organizations like WCU to help create a competitive workforce and a sustainable economy for generations to come.”
Frank Lockwood, WCU associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation, provided data and research about underserved and underrepresented students that were used in the university’s proposal submitted to Wells Fargo in support of the most recent gift.

The future of transportation in NC

The North Carolina Board of Transportation has approved the 2016-2025 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), a 10-year transportation plan that includes nearly 1,100 projects in the state over the next decade. The highway projects alone are expected to support the creation of nearly 300,000 jobs. The plan is the first developed using the Strategic Mobility Formula – a method for distributing funding for and prioritizing transportation projects – that was created two years ago with the passage of the Strategic Transportation Investments law (STI).

Using the mobility formula, the N.C. Department of Transportation is able to invest existing transportation revenues more efficiently, funding 303 more projects and helping support about 126,000 more jobs than it could have under the state’s previous funding formula.

The STIP includes projects in all 100 counties and all transportation modes, making it one of NCDOT’s most comprehensive state transportation programs to date.
The Strategic Mobility Formula directs 60 percent of available funding to improvements on the regional and local levels to ensure NCDOT is meeting the varied needs of communities throughout North Carolina. The remaining 40 percent goes to projects of statewide significance.

While projects on the statewide level are determined based only on data, local input is considered in determining projects at both the regional and division levels to ensure that local transportation priorities are addressed.

Planning organizations across the state submitted projects to NCDOT for evaluation at the local, regional and statewide levels. The projects were scored by a data-driven process that weighed factors such as safety, congestion and economic competiveness. Those at the statewide level that did not score high enough to be funded also had the opportunity to compete on the regional and division levels.

Transportation Secretary Tony Tata and Governor McCrory unveiled a draft of the State Transportation Improvement Program in December. NCDOT held a series of meetings over the past several months for public comment prior to the transportation board’s approval Thursday.

NC Expects Record Blueberry Crop This Year

Blueberry growers across North Carolina are expecting a record crop as they start harvesting for the season, thanks to recent dry weather.
North Carolina is the seventh-largest producer of blueberries in the nation. In 2012, the state grew 41 million pounds of blueberries. About 75 percent of the state’s crop is sold to fresh markets such as grocery stores, farmers markets and roadside stands.
Bill Cline, a plant pathologist at the Horticultural Crops Research Station in Castle Hayne, works with blueberry growers throughout the year. He said consumers should have no trouble finding N.C. blueberries during the next few weeks. Shoppers are encouraged to check labels to see if blueberries were grown in North Carolina, but Cline said that even national brands should be using N.C. blueberries right now because of availability.
One of the best ways for consumers to know they are getting locally grown blueberries is to buy berries directly from growers at farmers markets, roadside stands or pick-your-own farms. Many of these growers expect to have crops that last until Labor Day. The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services offers an online directory of farmers markets, roadside stands and pick-your-own farms atwww.ncfarmfresh.com.

Suspects in Custody in Macon County School Shooting

A shooting outside an elementary school in Macon County has led to two arrests. No one was hurt in the incident which happened early Thursday morning around 5:30 am when shots were fired as the first morning employees including bus drivers were pulling up to the campus.

Adam Conley, 38 and Kathryn Jeter, 29, were arrested after the incident, and their bonds have been set at $1 million.

Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland says Conley and Jeter made their way onto the school’s campus with at least five guns.

The investigation led deputies from the school to a house just a few blocks away. Deputies executed a search warrant on Conley’s property. They hope to find what they find will shed light on the events that took place on the school campus.

Grant provides railroad improvements in Sylva

The Blue Ridge Southern (BLU) will receive a grant from Freight Rail and Rail Crossing Safety Improvement to provide upgrades to the railroad’s infrastructure. Blue Ridge Southern is the state’s newest short line railroad. This 92-mile railroad, previously owned by Norfolk Southern, was purchased by Watco Companies in 2014.

Blue Ridge Southern serves Asheville, Canton, Waynesville, Sylva, Fletcher and Hendersonville and connects with Norfolk Southern’s terminal in Asheville. It serves Evergreen Packaging, Duke Energy, Kimberly-Clark, Wilsonart and other customers.

Work will be ongoing over the next several months.

Folkmoot USA seeks volunteers

Folkmoot USA depends on hundreds of volunteers to pull off the 10-day international folk dance festival. This year, Folkmoot is seeking volunteers for the Parade of Nations, International Day, in-office and cafeteria support, guides and souvenir vendors.

The 2015 festival begins July 16 and closes July 26. The full schedule is available at www.FolkmootUSA.org.

Needed volunteer positions are as follows:

— Volunteers for the Parade of Nations

The parade takes place beginning at 1 p.m. Friday, July 17, in downtown Waynesville. Volunteers will be asked to keep parade watchers off the streets and on the sidewalks, direct parade participants and pass out schedules and brochures for upcoming performances.

— Volunteers for International Festival Day

International Day is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 18, on Main Street, Waynesville. Volunteers are needed to transport, set up and takedown tables, chairs and Folkmoot merchandise. Volunteers will also serve in the information booth and will be asked to assist international performers.

— Volunteers for the cafeteria will assist with any of the four meals given to performers each day (breakfast, lunch, dinner and 11 p.m. snack). Volunteers will help clean after meals and do cafeteria chores with supervision from cafeteria staff.

— Volunteers for office support are needed after 5:30 to 10 p.m. to answer phones and take over-the-phone ticket orders. Volunteers for souvenir sales will help sell Folkmoot merchandise onsite and at each performance venue.

A call for guides

Each international group attending Folkmoot will have one man and one woman guide over the ages of 18-years old. The guide’s duty is to act as a liaison between the performers and the Folkmoot organization, accompanying the groups to all scheduled venues and helping plan fun events during the group’s free time. The job is a 24/7 commitment, requiring guides to stay with their group for the duration of the 10-day festival. A small stipend is given to each guide.

To apply as a volunteer or a guide, contact Doug Garrett at dgarrett@folkmoot.com or download and submit an application at FolkmootUSA.org. To purchase tickets for Folkmoot events, contact the ticket office at 452-2997.

Former Congressman Heath Shuler to Sell Waynesville Estate

Heath Shuler, former North Carolina Congressman, is selling his 7,000-square-foot Waynesville, N.C., mountain estate at auction on June 25.

The property is assessed at more than $1.7 million and includes its own trout creek and pond. The home itself has five bedrooms, along with five full and four half bathrooms. The house also includes a home theater, recreation room and gym. An adjacent barn adds another 2,400 square feet of space.

Shuler, a former N.C. congressman who is now a senior vice president for Duke Energy, built the 7,230 square-foot home in 2006 on 11 acres, according to J.P. King Auction Co., which will conduct the sale.

A $50,000 deposit is required to be eligible to bid and there is no established reserve. However, it is not an absolute auction. The sale is subject to the owner’s approval.

Property tours are available from June 16, through auction day.

Shuler in January purchased a home in Asheville, N.C.’s Biltmore Forest community for $985,000.

Local Employment Conditions Improve

Between April 2014 and April 2015, unemployment rates fell in 95 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all 15 of the state’s metropolitan areas. Over the same period, the size of the local labor force shrank in 53 counties and in 2 metro areas.

These findings come from new estimates released today by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

“Local unemployment rates declined throughout North Carolina over the past year,” said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, Ltd., a research firm specializing in economic and social policy. “While noteworthy, the declines in local unemployment rates do not alter the fact that many local labor markets still have not recovered from the last recession.”

Compared to December 2007, which is when the national economy fell into recession, North Carolina now has 1.5 percent more payroll jobs (+63,500). In April 2015, the state gained 11,100 more jobs than it lost (+0.3 percent). Since bottoming out in February 2010, the state’s labor market has netted some 6,300 payroll jobs per month, resulting in a cumulative gain of 390,000 payroll jobs (+10.2 percent).

Between March and April of 2015, local unemployment rates decreased in 89 of the state’s 100 counties, increased in 6 counties, and held constant in 5 counties. Individual county rates in April ranged from 3.9 percent in Orange and Buncombe counties to 12.8 percent in Graham County. Overall, 2 counties posted unemployment rates greater than or equal to 10 percent, and 61 counties posted rates between 5.3 and 9.9 percent.

“The combined unemployment rate in North Carolina’s non-metropolitan counties in April was 4.2 percent,” noted Quinterno. “These 54 non-metropolitan counties are home to 21.8 percent of the state’s labor force. Compared to December 2007, non-metro areas now have 5 percent fewer employed persons, while the number of unemployed individuals is 8.4 percent greater. Over that time, the size of the non-metro labor force has fallen by 4.5 percent. In fact, non-metropolitan North Carolina has been responsible for the entire decline in the state’s labor force that has occurred since late 2007.”

Earlier this year, the Labor and Economic Analysis Division implemented new definitions of metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties consistent with federal changes made based on the 2010 Census. With those updates, North Carolina now has 46 metropolitan counties and 54 non-metropolitan ones. Additionally, the state now has 15 metropolitan statistical areas, up from 14; the addition is the three-county New Bern metro area.

Between March and April, unemployment rates fell in 13 of the state’s 15 metro areas, increased in 1 metro area, and held steady in 1 metro area. Rocky Mount had the highest unemployment rate (7.9 percent), followed by Fayetteville (6.8 percent) and New Bern (5.7 percent). Asheville had the lowest unemployment rate (4.1 percent), followed by Raleigh-Cary (4.3 percent), Durham-Chapel Hill (4.4 percent), Burlington (4.7 percent), and Wilmington and Winston-Salem (both 4.9 percent).

Compared to April 2014, unemployment rates in April 2015 were lower in 95 counties and in all 15 metro areas. Over the year, however, labor force sizes decreased in 53 counties and in 2 metros. The statewide labor force (unadjusted), meanwhile, was 1.9 percent larger (+89,077 individuals) in April 2015 than it was in April 2014.

All of the year-over-year growth in the size of the state’s labor force occurred in metro areas, which collectively added 101,653 persons (+2.8 percent). Among metros, Burlington’s labor force grew at the fastest rate (+9.5 percent) over the course of the year, followed by Charlotte (+6.7 percent) and Raleigh (+4.7 percent). With those changes, metro areas now are home to 78.2 percent of the state’s labor force, with 56.2 percent of the labor force residing in the Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte metros.

In the long term, improvements in North Carolina’s overall labor market depend on growth in the Charlotte, Research Triangle, and Piedmont Triad regions. Over the year, unemployment rates fell in 4 of the 5 metro areas that constitute those regions and held steady in 1. Collectively, employment in the 3 broad regions has risen by 10.4 percent since December 2007, and the combined unemployment rate in April totaled 4.8 percent, as compared to 4.5 percent in December 2007. Of the three broad regions, the Research Triangle had the lowest April unemployment rate (4.5 percent), followed by the Piedmont Triad and Charlotte (both 5.1 percent).

Last month, the number of regular unemployment insurance initial claims filed in North Carolina totaled 16,151 down from the 19,181 initial claims filed a year earlier (-15.8 percent). Mecklenburg County was home to greatest number of regular initial claims (2,250), followed by Wake (1,628), Guilford (1,115), Forsyth (697), and Cumberland (643) counties.

In April 2015, North Carolinians received a (nominal) total of $22.4 million in regular state-funded unemployment insurance compensation, down from the (nominal) $38.5 million received in April 2014. This decline (-41.8 percent) is attributable to a mix of factors, such as drops in the number of insurance claims resulting from economic improvements and legal changes that restricted eligibility for unemployment insurance compensation.

“Many labor markets across North Carolina, particularly some of the largest metropolitan ones, experienced improvements over the past year,” said Quinterno. “At the same time, many local labor markets still have not recovered from the last recession, and in many respects, the state’s labor market remains far from healthy—a reality that policymakers cannot choose to ignore.”

WCU’s A.J. Grube elected Southern Conference president

A.J. Grube, Western Carolina University’s faculty athletics representative, was elected president of the Southern Conference at the intercollegiate athletics association’s annual spring meetings recently in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Grube, director of WCU’s School of Accounting, Finance, Information Systems and Business Law, will serve a two-year term, effective June 1. She has served as vice president of the Southern Conference for the past two years, with Chip Taylor from the Citadel serving as president.

“The Southern Conference is one of a few conferences where the faculty athletics representatives serve as the officers of the conference and, hence, cast his or her institution’s vote when needed. Most conferences don’t work this way,” she said. “I’m truly excited about this opportunity.”

A faculty member at WCU since 1999, Grube also was recently named to the NCAA legislative committee, a 19-member group whose primary responsibility is to review and make recommendations regarding the merits of proposals developed through the association’s shared governance process.

She chaired a campuswide review committee a decade ago that led WCU’s yearlong NCAA recertification process, culminating in notice of unconditional certification of the university’s intercollegiate athletics programs in March 2005.

Formerly assistant vice chancellor for operations and research in the Division of Academic Affairs, Grube earned her doctorate at Florida State University, master’s degrees at Georgia College & State University and Georgia Southern University, and bachelor’s degree at Georgia College & State University.

The Southern Conference is an NCAA Division I conference with headquarters in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In addition to WCU, its members are the Citadel, East Tennessee State University, Furman University, Mercer University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Samford University, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Virginia Military Institute and Wofford College.

The conference’s four-day meetings, which concluded Friday, May 29, were attended by the institutional presidents and chancellors, athletic directors, senior women administrators and faculty athletic representatives. The league’s football and men’s and women’s basketball coaches also held meetings.

In addition to the election of Grube as president, Wofford’s Jameica Hill was selected as vice president. Nayef Samhat of Wofford was elected chairman of the Council of Presidents for 2015-16 while Brian Noland of ETSU was chosen to serve as the vice chairman.

The conference also finalized sites for select championships. Sites for men’s soccer, women’s soccer and volleyball were selected through 2018.
ETSU, Samford and Mercer were chosen as host sites for women’s soccer, while UNCG, Mercer and ETSU were selected on the men’s side. Western Carolina and UNCG were tabbed to host the volleyball tournament in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

WCU Announces Summer Concert Series

The rock trio American Gonzos will kick off WCU’s Summer Concert Series on Thursday, June 11. The Asheville-based musicians are (from left) Michael Dean, Toby Burleson and Andrew Thelston. Dean and Thelston are WCU alumni.

The rock trio American Gonzos will kick off WCU’s Summer Concert Series on Thursday, June 11. The Asheville-based musicians are (from left) Michael Dean, Toby Burleson and Andrew Thelston. Dean and Thelston are WCU alumni.

The 2015 Summer Concert Series at Western Carolina University gets underway Thursday, June 11, with a free performance featuring the rock trio American Gonzos.
The Asheville-based musicians will take the stage at 7 p.m. at WCU’s Central Plaza. Those attending are encouraged to bring blankets or chairs for comfortable seating.
American Gonzo includes two WCU alumni from the class of 2009 – Andrew Thelston, guitarist and lead vocalist, and Michael Dean, who plays bass and provides backup vocals. The third member of the trio is Toby Burleson, drummer and backup vocalist.
Known for their musicianship and catchy tunes, members of the trio say they gather inspiration from many genres of music, including rock, funk, punk and alternative. The band was organized in 2010, and in 2011 the three musicians released their self-titled debut album, which was followed by their second album, “No Way to Live,” in 2013. The band members are currently working on a new collection of songs with longtime producer Randall Harris.
All concerts in the free series are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursdays in June and July. Upcoming acts include Bubonik Funk, June 25; Doug Gibson, July 16; Buchanan Boys, July 23; and Steph Stewart and the Boyfriends, July 30. The rain location for all the events is Illusions in A.K. Hinds University Center.

Grant Assists with Homeless Veterans in Cherokee

Cherokee Seed Corn Inc. has been awarded a $10,123 grant from the Evergreen Foundation based out of Waynesville. The grant is to help renovate 10 rooms and a kitchen/dining area at the Home Stead Motel to serve homeless veterans.

The Veteran Housing is the pilot project for the 7th generation programs that Cherokee Seed Corn Inc. is focused on. Plans are to expand to family housing to reconnect veteran families as the veteran is more capable of adjusting to civilian life. Future projects will be announced as funding becomes available.