Downtown Chapel Hill Businesses Continue to Evolve

Downtown Chapel Hill has seen a lot of things change over the years and that is continuing with new businesses coming into the area.

Kristen Smith, with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, says she is anxious to see where the changes in downtown Chapel Hill lead.

“I think downtown is evolving. And that’s what makes it exciting,” she says.

She adds that many businesses view downtown as a place they can thrive, and it is important to find the right pieces to complete the puzzle.

“Downtown is so desirable, these spaces don’t stay empty,” she says. “It’s just about finding the right mix.”

Smith points out that there are already areas of downtown where you can see the evolution as businesses revamp certain locations.

“Graham Street has transformed,” she says. “We’re seeing new businesses, and I hope that people take an opportunity to get involved.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says that overall there is a very low retail vacancy rate in Chapel Hill, but adds turnover is important to continue pushing the economic climate in the right direction and find businesses that can plant long-term roots in the area.

“A healthy downtown, or a main street, is going to have a fractional vacancy rate,” he says. “So that you can continue to freshen the mix of retail options for consumers.”

Smith says the possibility exists of, literally, building up in downtown. She adds that as certain developments grow taller that will open more possibilities of living space in downtown Chapel Hill. The extra population could turn into high retail foot traffic and add another layer of economic input to those downtown businesses.

“Downtown Imagined” has grown out of the “Rosemary Imagined” project. More information about all of the undertakings in development for downtown Chapel Hill can be seen on the Town of Chapel Hill webpage.

http://chapelboro.com/news/development/downtown-chapel-hill-businesses-continue-evolve/

Orange Unemployment Drops Again In October

Orange County’s unemployment rate saw another big drop in October, down to 4.0 percent from 4.5 percent in September.

That’s according to numbers released earlier this week by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Department of Commerce.

Orange County is tied with Buncombe and Henderson Counties with the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state. Chatham County has the lowest rate, at 3.8 percent. (The highest rate is Graham County, 11.2 percent.)

Numbers are not seasonally adjusted, so it’s actually more useful to compare unemployment rates from year to year rather than month to month. Orange County’s unemployment rate in October of last year was 4.8 percent – so it’s dropped almost a full point in the last 12 months.

The next update will take place next Friday, December 19, when the Department of Commerce will release state-wide unemployment numbers for November.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/orange-unemployment-drops-october/

Here’s How To Help Orange County Residents Find Jobs

You can do your part to help local residents at risk of homelessness – by giving them a chance to find work.

Orange County’s Community Empowerment Fund has a Job Partners Program, which offers job training to local residents and connects them with potential employers.

Right now they’re looking for volunteers to serve as Employer Liaisons – working to build relationships with employers and connect graduates of the program with job openings.

If you’re interested in volunteering, there will be a training session on Wednesday, December 10, from 5:30-6:30 pm at the Community Empowerment Fund office at 133 1/2 E. Franklin Street, just east of Columbia Street in downtown Chapel Hill.

For more information, or to sign up, contact the Community Empowerment Fund at 919-200-0233.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/heres-help-orange-county-residents-find-jobs/

Big Drop In Local Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate dropped sharply in the Triangle last month, according to numbers released last week by the NC Department of Commerce.

In Orange Count, the unemployment rate dropped from 5.4 percent in August to 4.5 percent in September – almost a full percentage point in a single month. That’s no surprise – the numbers are not seasonally adjusted, and Orange County’s unemployment rate usually goes up in the summer and down again in the fall – but the 4.5 percent rate is also down 0.2 percent from where it was in September of 2013.

Alamance, Chatham, Durham, and Wake Counties also saw big drops in their unemployment rates from August to September – drops ranging from 0.7 percent to 1.1 percent, all in a single month. And all four counties also have lower unemployment rates in 2014 than they did at this time last year; Alamance County’s rate is down more than a full percentage point from September 2013 (down from 7.2 percent last year to 5.9 percent this year).

Read the full report, from the DOC’s Division of Employment Security.

Across the state, Chatham and Currituck Counties are tied with the lowest unemployment rate, 4.2 percent. Graham County has the highest, 12.2 percent.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/big-drop-local-unemployment-rate/

Unemployment Down In NC (But So Is Employment)

North Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a point in September, from 6.8 percent in August to 6.7 percent, according to numbers released earlier this week by the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

The number of unemployed North Carolinians dropped by about 4,500 people in September – but that’s not necessarily translating into more jobs. In fact the number of employed North Carolinians also dropped in September, by about 5,600 people.

And North Carolina’s unemployment rate continues to lag behind the national average. In March of this year, the state’s unemployment rate had dropped to 6.3 percent, actually below the national rate of 6.7 – but since then, the national rate has dropped to just below 6 percent, while the state’s rate has slightly increased.

Read the full report from the NC Department of Commerce.

Still, unemployment is much lower in North Carolina now than at this time last year. The state’s unemployment rate in September 2013 was 7.7 percent – a full point higher than it is now.

County-by-county unemployment numbers are due to be released on Wednesday.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-news/unemployment-nc-employment/

Unemployment Up Slightly In Orange

Orange County’s unemployment rate ticked up again last month, from 5.3 percent in July to 5.4 percent in August.

That’s the latest from the State Department of Commerce. According to numbers released Wednesday, the unemployment rate went up in August in 74 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

County numbers are not seasonally adjusted, so it’s better to compare the unemployment rate from year to year rather than month to month. The August 2014 unemployment rate of 5.4 percent is still lower than it was one year ago, but not by much: in August of 2013, Orange County’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent.

Orange County has the seventh lowest unemployment rate in the state; Currituck County is tops with a rate of 4 percent, followed by Chatham County at 4.9 percent. (Graham County ranks last with a rate of 13.4 percent.) The overall unemployment rate in the Triangle is 5.7 percent.

Statewide unemployment numbers for September will be released on October 21.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/unemployment-slightly-orange/

UNC Student Project Goes “Whole Hog”

(Image via PoweringANation.org.)

A UNC student-run organization called “Powering A Nation” has unveiled its newest documentary project: “Whole Hog,” an online multimedia exploration of North Carolina’s complex hog industry.

The hog industry is central to the state’s economy, particularly in eastern North Carolina where the tobacco industry is in decline. But it also comes with pitfalls, ranging from the environmental (health issues raised by the spraying of hog waste onto farms as fertilizer) to the economic (the decreasing power of individual small farmers as the industry grows more and more consolidated into fewer and fewer hands).

Available online at WholeHogNC.org, the “Whole Hog” project consists of “written pieces, video stories and graphic design elements” created by six UNC fellows. “Powering A Nation” has been active for six years, creating projects like this that examine various aspects of the energy issue in America – but editor-in-chief Kelly Creedon says this is the first of their projects with a North Carolina-specific focus.

Kelly Creedon, design editor Grayson Mendenhall, managing editor Jess Clark, and graphics editor Bailey Seitter joined Aaron Keck in WCHL studios to discuss the project, a day after its online launch.

You can experience “Whole Hog” for yourself at WholeHogNC.org – and learn more about “Powering A Nation” at PoweringANation.org.

http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/unc-student-project-goes-whole-hog/

In NC, Did Cutting Benefits Really Cut Unemployment?

CHAPEL HILL – Last year, the General Assembly voted to cut off unemployment benefits for thousands of North Carolinians—and the unemployment rate went down, faster in this state than anywhere else in the country.

But were those two connected—and if so, how?

Republicans say cutting off benefits motivated people to get back on the job market; Democrats say the move actually discouraged people, to the point where they dropped out of the job market altogether.

But Mark Vitner—managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo—says he’s skeptical all around.

“As with many things in economics,” he says, “if you take the data and twist them the way you want, you can say just about anything.”

Vitner says he doesn’t believe the unemployment rate fell solely because people dropped out of the job market: North Carolina’s labor force did decline in 2013, but the decline was actually faster in the first half of the year, before the state cut off benefits.

Furthermore, Vitner says, “(while) we had the biggest drop in the unemployment rate in the country, we didn’t have the biggest drop in the labor force in the country – not even close to it.”

That suggests North Carolina was, in fact, getting people back to work in 2013, at a faster rate than most other states.

Governor Pat McCrory and other Republicans have touted this as a “Carolina miracle.” But Vitner says not so fast.

“If you’ve been unemployed for long periods of time and you’ve received emergency benefits, odds are you’ve exhausted your savings,” he says. “I think many people, many of those folks, took jobs that they wouldn’t have taken in the past – because they were looking for something to replace the job that they had lost – but now they’ve got a different concern, which is ‘I’ve got to get money in the door’…

“And so part of that increase in leisure and hospitality employment and retail trade that picked up in the second half of the year may have been people saying, ‘well, I’ve got to take something because I’ve got to get money coming in.’ And that’s not a success story.”

Vitner made those comments at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic outlook briefing, last week Thursday at the Sheraton Chapel Hill.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/nc-cutting-benefits-really-cut-unemployment/

Gender May Be Key To ACA Impact On Small Biz

How is the Affordable Care Act affecting small business owners in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area?

The answer may depend on the gender of the workers they employ.

That, at least, is the tentative finding of a survey of local business owners conducted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

When asked how the Affordable Care Act was impacting them, 30.5 percent responded “negatively” or “very negatively,” while 23.9 percent responded “positively” or “very positively.” (The rest—not quite half—were either unaffected or unsure.)

But Chamber president Aaron Nelson says a closer look at the responses reveals something interesting.

“Some of that is about the neutralizing of men and women, (who) cost differently in the old world and cost the same now,” he says. “So if you had a predominantly younger female staff, your rates likely go down – (but) with a predominantly male staff…your rates could go up. So gender has had a real impact on cost.”

Nelson says auto body shops, in particular, have reported their health care costs going up—while the Chamber itself, with a mostly-female staff, has seen its costs decline.

Chamber economic briefing ACA slide

Additional results from the survey are available at www.slideshare.net/carolinachamber/2014-economic-outlook-briefing (also the source of this image). As seen here, there’s only a slight lean towards the ACA having a “negative” effect if severity is not taken into account, but that changes if severity is considered: a far greater percentage of respondents reported a “very negative” effect than a “very positive” effect.

Nelson presented the results of the survey at last week’s annual Economic Outlook Briefing at the Sheraton Chapel Hill.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/gender-may-key-aca-impact-small-biz/

Economist: Next Three Years Will Be Strong

CHAPEL HILL – The national and local economy got off to a slow start this year, but economist Mark Vitner of Wells Fargo says he still expects 2014 to be a strong year overall.

“Most of the numbers that we’re going to see (from February) are likely to be disappointing because the time that those reports are put together, the time period that they reference, is right about the time that we had the big snowstorm,” he said Thursday. “But I think that’s all pretty much a temporary disruption.”

Vitner delivered the keynote address at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Economic Outlook Briefing, Thursday morning at the Sheraton Chapel Hill.

Vitner based his optimism on a number of positive developments—including reduced uncertainty following the federal budget deal; rapid growth in the nation’s energy and tech sectors; and an expected drop in the unemployment rate, down below six percent by the end of the year. He said he expects the improved economy will spur the Fed to raise interest rates sometime in 2015 (though not before).

Even so, Vitner says economic growth will be slower in the future than it has been in the past. Prior to the recession, he says, the U.S. economy grew at an average rate of 3.3 percent per year—but that was sustained in part by heavy debt. Now that credit’s harder to come by, Vitner says growth won’t be quite that fast: he predicts the economy will grow by 2.4 percent in 2014, up about half a point from last year, and by about 3.1 percent in 2015 and 2016.

If that prediction holds, Vitner says we’ll be doing pretty well.

“We think that 2014, 2015 and 2016 will be the three best years of this decade,” he said Thursday.

And with the economy returning to normal, consumer confidence too is up from previous years. But Vitner says people aren’t necessarily feeling more optimistic, just less pessimistic: fewer people say the economy is “bad,” but there’s been no change in the number of people who are ready to say the economy is “good.”

“I kind of sum that out as ‘less bad is good – but more good would be better,'” he quipped. “That’s kind of where the economy is right now.”

Vitner is a Charlotte-based managing director and senior economist for Wells Fargo. More than 100 people were in attendance for his speech on Thursday.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/economist-next-three-years-will-strong/